When you come in for a New Patient Exam, generally, most dental offices are going to ask to take a full mouth set of eighteen radiographs. I know what you’re thinking, “Eighteen x-rays, that can’t be healthy.” Then 6 to 12 months later, these dental offices are going to ask you to take four more. Now you’re probably thinking, “I’m going to walk out of that place glowing with all the radiation!” A standard practice is to continue to ask every 6 to 12 months for those four bitewings, and every three to five years for the full mouth set or a panoramic image.
So what’s the deal?
Are all of these radiographs really necessary? Are these offices just pumping your body full of unsafe amounts of radiation?
Dental radiographs are actually very important to your overall health, and not just your mouth! Dental radiographs can show dental professionals many things that may not be visible by just looking in your mouth: tooth decay, bone loss, infection, and cancer.
In 2018, it’s estimated that there were 68,830 new oral cancer cases. The survival rate of stage 4 oral cancer drops down to about 50%. Dental radiographs actually show some forms of oral cancer in earlier, more treatable stages.
Tooth decay is extremely common. One of the most common areas to get decay is in between two teeth due to a lack of flossing. Usually, these areas in between the teeth are only visible by dental x-ray. Fast forward a year or two and that small cavity that was never diagnosed makes its way into the nerve of your tooth and you have a large infection. The infection on the end of your tooth then makes its way into your bloodstream, opening the door for many other health risks including sepsis.
Periodontal disease, or bone loss, can also be seen on dental radiographs. While your teeth and gums might look fine when you’re checking them out in the bathroom mirror, there’s a concern about the bone that holds your teeth in place. Dental radiographs allow us to see beneath the gum tissue and into the bone. If too much of the bone surrounding the teeth has been lost, your teeth will begin to have mobility and eventually need to be removed. If caught early enough, with the use of dental radiographs, we are able to recommend a deeper cleaning to help aid in the retention of gum levels.
How Much is Too Much?
With the advancement of technology, dental radiographs are much safer than they used to be. Don’t believe me? Check out these things that actually contain more radiation than a dental radiograph:
A flight from New York to Los Angeles
Living in a brick building
Working in a power plant
Visiting certain sites at Fukushima
A typical full mouth set of 18 radiographs gives off 0.09 mSv of radiation, and 4 bitewings gives off 0.02 mSv. 100 mSv of radiation is the annual limit where an increased risk of cancer is found evident. To reach a level of radiation that is unhealthy from routine dental radiographs, you’d have to have more than 1,000 full mouth sets of radiographs in one year.
The Bottom Line…
Tooth decay, bone loss, infection, and cancer can only be treated in diagnosed. Don’t skip out on a chance to stay healthy. If you have a concern about dental x-rays, don’t hesitate to bring up your concerns during your appointment. Here at Fall Creek Dental, we work for you; not only in your dental health, but also in your dental education.