X-ray images of your teeth are part of a complete regular dental examination. There is no other way to fully visualize every surface of the tooth and catch cavities before they become big problems. Likewise, they are a crucial step in diagnosing tooth pain during an emergency appointment. In this article, we hope to shed some light on the frequency and number of x-rays we take at our office. Read on for the full story!
For starters, it is important to recognize the relative safety of dental radiographs versus their diagnostic benefits. A full mouth set of x-rays exposes a patient to the same amount of radiation as a trans-atlantic flight. Likewise, if you spent 2 hours in direct sunlight the day of your appointment, you have received the same amount of exposure as a single film. In short, the risk is nearly negligible. However, we still strive to take as few images as possible, only exposing the teeth that absolutely need to be pictured.
A full mouth x-ray series is composed of about eighteen films (four bitewings and 14 periapicals) that capture every surface of every tooth. Bitewings are used to visualize the spaces in between the molars and premolars and record the bone height around the teeth. Periapicals provide imaging of the root systems, any possible infections and the spaces between the anterior teeth. We usually take a new full mouth series every three to five years and update bitewings every six to eighteen months. These schedules are not set by patient preference or convenience- rather, they are dictated by guidelines from the ADA in accordance with the patient's specific risk for developing new cavities or gum disease.
Naturally, these guidelines are not hard rules. We may wish to take x-rays more often if we are monitoring a specific tooth or if you come to an emergency appointment in pain. We calculate the need for radiographs very carefully and only recommend taking them when it is crucial to making a proper diagnosis. If you have any further questions about dental x-rays, exams or cleanings please give our office a call!