Annual x-ray imaging (radiographs) can be an intimidating topic in the dental office, with many people not familiar of the importance of updated imaging. The answer in some cases may be, no you may not need x-rays each year, maybe you need them every 18-24 months. This varies from person to person. The need for x-rays is based on your risk for developing decay, habits, previous history of decay and many other factors. We use x-rays that have been taken within the last year to help diagnose and treat every patient, thus it is important that they are current and accurate. It is our job as clinicians to tailor the need for x-rays to each patient, we understand everyone is different. That being said, most individuals are at a moderate to high risk for developing decay, which is why in most cases yearly x-rays are recommended.
X-rays provide the dentist with important information that cannot be obtained with a simple oral examination. Many times cavities that appear in the visual exam can only be seen on certain surfaces or teeth, or when they’ve already increased in size. We want to find decay before it advances to this stage. X-rays give us a better look into the inside and overall health of the tooth. Our goal is always to catch decay as early as possible and stop it’s progression. By treating decay in the early stages we prevent further loss of tooth structure (weakening the tooth) as well as preventing the necessary treatment to be more invasive and expensive. Most people would rather have a simple filling to treat early decay than a root canal and crown (or losing the entire tooth completely) because the decay has progressed. Depending on your personal risk factors for decay (home care program, previous treatments and overall mouth health) cavities can sometimes progress very rapidly, sometimes changing drastically within 12 months. We want to prevent patients from needing invasive treatments and costs. Annual x-rays help monitor the health of your mouth to ensure this is possible.
X-rays allow us to see between the teeth as well, an area that cannot be seen in the oral examination. They also allow us to see all three layers of tooth structure (enamel, dentin, and pulp chamber) to determine how advanced a cavity has become. When a cavity is still in the enamel layer, it will progress more slowly. When it surpasses the enamel and reaches the dentin layer of the tooth, it will progress more quickly. The accelerated advancement at this stage is due to the softer structure of the dentin. Even if a cavity does not infect the pulp chamber (the inner portion of the tooth containing nerves and blood vessels), a cavity in close proximity, is sometimes enough irritation for the nerve of the tooth to become inflamed, causing irreversible pulpitis, typically resulting in a root canal. With x-rays we can stop this process and treat decay before it spreads to other areas of the tooth and prevents further damage.
Allowing your clinician to perform the x-rays they deem appropriate can often save you time, money and pain by finding cavities before they have moved to advanced stages. If you ever have concerns or questions, do not hesitate to ask your clinician to get a better understanding of why x-rays are being taken. It is never our goal to expose anyone to unnecessary radiation and we do understand if people have concerns regarding this. We do pride ourselves in trying to offer the most innovative technology available and this applies to our x-ray machines as well. In fact, all of our x-ray machines are completely digital (drastically decreasing radiation exposure) and lead aprons are available to anyone. We will discuss your particular risk factors and our recommendations for x-rays. You are ultimately in the driver’s seat and have every right to determine what treatment you do or don’t receive and we are willing to discuss this further at any of your visits. We want to make sure we are always on the same page as our patients and that we listen to concerns.