The number and frequency of dental X-rays you’ll need is often the topic of discussion between you and your dentist during an oral evaluation. Most patients are concerned about X-ray exposure, since they are a form of radiation, and thus can potentially be harmful. Another distressing issue is cumulative radiation exposure. These are valid concerns.
Dentists use dental X-rays as an important and necessary tool to detect dental problems. A dentist’s goal should be to minimize radiation exposure to the patient, but also make sure he gets adequate diagnostic information. How often and how many are needed is a question that is carefully considered by a dentist, and is also dependent on a patient’s health needs.
For a new patient, a dentist may recommend a complete-mouth series of X-rays to determine the status of all teeth and create a basis for future comparison. He will also want to see any recent X-rays that may be available from a previous dentist or another dental office.
Dental X-rays represent only one form of radiation exposure, but there are many other types. Patients can encounter radiation as a result of needed medical care, occupational exposure, or radiation that occurs naturally in the environment.
Digital dental X-rays are particularly valuable because this allows for convenient electronic sharing of information between offices. In the past, traditional dental X-rays needed to be duplicated. These copies are often of marginal quality, and can often no longer be diagnosed. This means that the patient would need new ones, leading to increased risk of radiation exposure.
However, digital images are virtually identical to the original and can be shared with another office. This is important for the patient because it means that the same information is available to both dentists. Diagnosing a dental problem early means that dentists can provide less-invasive care, reduce the need for dentistry, and preserve your teeth longer.
Precautions need to be taken for dental treatment for patients who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Unfortunately, dental issues do not wait until the baby is born, and may need to be dealt with during pregnancy. Proper diagnosis and treatment will often require that dental X-rays be taken.
Both mother and developing fetus are protected by the lead apron and thyroid collar used in all dental offices. Radiation will not pass through this apron, and when it is worn appropriately, it reflects all radiation away from the body, shielding the developing fetus . Naturally, if the procedure can be delayed until after the baby is born, that is probably the best decision. However, when dental X-rays are needed in order to diagnose and treat an oral illness during pregnancy, they can be done safely.