Although our office is full of technologically advanced tools and space-age materials, the most common conversation starter is our trusted x-ray machine. Between hygiene checkups and emergency appointments, we are often asked "Are dental X-rays safe? Do I REALLY need another set?" The answer to both these questions is a resounding yes. After our recent post on adding the Dexis Dexsheild to our radiation safety protocol, we wanted to take a moment to explain what x-rays are, how they work and why they are some of the safest diagnostic tools available to the medical world.
Since the end of the atomic age, the word "radiation" has gained an increasingly worsening reputation. It is a scary concept; invisible and potentially harmful energy that can travel through walls. However, it is important to remember that radiation has always been around us since the beginning of time. The sun, the atmosphere and even large rocks all give off measurable radiation. This environmental exposure jumped drastically with the rise of consumer electronics. From your television to your toaster, most common household items contribute to the yearly radiation we receive.
X-Rays are a subtype of radiation that has ideal properties for medical imaging. They have no mass or charge and travel in straight lines with fixed wavelengths. When they reach a material, they are either transmitted through, reflected or absorbed. This allows x-ray films to image biological tissues. A developed x-ray film tells us about relative densities of an object; denser materials will appear white, while empty spaces look grey or black. This allows us to visualize tooth decay, as the developed picture will indicate where the tooth structure has demineralized and become more porous.
When you receive an x-ray at our office, you are receiving a dose of radiation that is less than half the background radiation from a typical day. This equivalency falls drastically if you sunbathe or spend a lot of time outdoors without sunscreen. Our machines are calibrated to give the absolute safest dose possible to obtain a diagnostic quality image. This is not easy to achieve; both too much AND too little power can make an x-ray more harmful to a patient. Overall, dental and medical imaging (x-rays, CT-scans, MRIs) account for about 1% of the average yearly radiation a patient receives. We feel that this is an excellent trade for the incredible diagnosing power we gain from their use.
While some products claim to match the abilities of x-rays without the drawbacks, none are as reliable, predictable or useful. For this reason, radiography machines are the gold standard in dental imaging around the world. The job of individual offices is then to keep their patients as safe as possible, to maximize quality while minimizing side effects. At Thousand Oaks Family Dentistry, we have many protocols that are focused on this idea. Our radiography system is fully electronic, from the beam timers to the digital sensors. This means we can deliver the lowest and most predictable level of radiation for every patient. This is followed up with a number of protective factors, from using lead aprons with thyroid collars, to our Dexsheilds and collimated (protectively enclosed) beam head. In every aspect, we meet or exceed the standards set out by the local and federal government.
If you still have concerns about radiation and why it is used in a dental setting, please give us a call. We know that radiography can seem intimidating or dangerous, and want to do our best to ease your mind. Our office is extremely confident in the safety and quality of the images we produce and would love to show you how and why we use them!