X-rays: A necessary tool of the dentist

Posted by Dr. Edward Magida | Filed under

"Doctor, I just had a chest x-ray three years ago when I went into the hospital to have my bunion removed."

I cannot tell you how often someone hands me a line such as this when the subject of dental x-rays comes up. The fact that the person is now sitting in a dental office doesn't seem to enter into the equation. After all, an x-ray is an x-ray, isn't it? There is the implication that I should either go back to school for a refresher course to learn how to use a chest x-ray to help diagnose dental problems, or just accept that he patient doesn't want any new x-rays taken.

Education is the key here. It's important for people to understand the importance of necessary, periodic dental x-rays.

When a new patient comes to the office, one of the necessary procedures done is the taking of what's called a full series of x-rays, or FMX. These are approximately 18 small films, that when mounted in a holder, show all areas of the person's mouth. There are several things that show up in these x-rays such as bone levels, dental decay, abscesses, tumors, and existing fillings and crowns.

All these entities are looked at for various reasons. Bone levels are examined for evidence of periodontal, or gum disease. Decay is looked for so that is can be removed before a tooth rots away and needs to be extracted. An abscess is basically a pus pocket. If this is not detected and treated properly, the person can experience pain, swelling and possible loss of the offending tooth. Tumors, although rare, need to be looked for because of their potential to become cancerous. Fillings and crowns need to be looked at on x-rays to see if they are still properly sealing the teeth and have them. If they are not, then new ones will be needed to prevent decay from starting.

Dental x-rays are extremely valuable in helping to properly and thoroughly examine a person's mouth. The problem people seem to have with the taking of dental x-rays is that they think they will be turned into some kind of walking human night-light. "Doc, I don't want to start glowing" is a common comment I hear. But, the truth is that a full set of dental x-rays is equivalent to the radiation exposure received from walking outside for a couple of days. The radiation received is extremely minimal.

A person needs to have a full set of x-rays every three to five years depending upon the condition of their mouth. Periodically, every six to 12 months a set of two to four x-rays called bitewings are taken. These films are used to detect cavities between the teeth, which many times can't be detected any other way. Your dental professional needs to gather information from these x-rays on a timely basis in order to help you keep your teeth as healthy as possible. When you are told that it is time to take new films to evaluate areas of your mouth that can't be seen any other way, please understand that we are speaking from experience, and be assured that only the minimum number of x-rays need will be taken. Without them our hands are tied and we cannot properly inform you of the condition of your mouth.

September 30, 2010 15:51

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