Most dentists, including Dr. Cheek, agree that limiting exposure to X-rays is important, but X-rays are necessary to find dental problems. When radiographs are not taken, dental and medical issues may go undetected, and your overall health could suffer. X-rays can help find and treat dental problems at an early stage, saving time, money and unnecessary discomfort. How often X-rays (radiographs) should be taken depends on your present oral health, your past dental treatment, your age, your risk for disease, and any signs and symptoms of oral disease you may be experiencing.
If you are a new patient, Dr. Cheek may recommend radiographs to determine the present status of your oral health and to help identify changes that may occur later. Because many diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissues cannot be seen when a dentist examines your mouth, an X-ray examination can help reveal:
- small areas of decay between the teeth or below existing restorations
- infections in the bone
- periodontal (gum) disease
- abscesses or cysts
- developmental abnormalities
- resorption of a tooth
- some types of tumors
With children the major reasons for taking dental radiographs are to detect cavities and to evaluate growth and development so that abnormalities can be treated before they become serious problems. For example, X-rays can detect the lack of formation of a permanent tooth which would alert Dr. Cheek to take every precaution in maintaining a baby tooth as long as possible so that more complex (and expensive) treatment can be delayed or perhaps even avoided.
While children are more sensitive to x-rays than adults because they are still growing, the amount of radiation from needed dental radiographs is extremely small – equivalent to a few hours of natural background radiation, which we have around us all the time. It is less radiation than they would receive if they made a trip to the mountains (higher background radiation at high altitudes) or flew in an airplane (increased cosmic radiation at flight levels.)