As a mom of three, I feel the weight of responsibility to stay informed and protect my children from toxins and chemicals that may harm their developing bodies. Radiation is one of those toxins that concerns many people. Most dentists agree that limiting exposure to X-rays is important, but X-rays are necessary to find dental problems that can also be dangerous to the body. Your health suffers when people miss dental or other medical issues because they never took a radiograph. X-rays can help your dentist find and treat dental problems at an early stage, saving time, money and unnecessary discomfort. In our practice, each patient is evaluated individually for how often and how many x-rays are needed.

How often X-rays (radiographs) should be taken depends on your present oral health, your age, your risk for disease, and any signs and symptoms of oral disease you may be experiencing. If you are a new patient, a dentist 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 your 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
  • 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. X-rays can detect the lack of formation of a permanent tooth which would alert the dentist 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.)

Even if you are pregnant, a radiograph may be needed for dental treatment that can’t wait until after the baby is born. Because untreated dental infections can pose a risk to the fetus, dental treatment may be necessary to maintain the health of the mother and child. A leaded apron minimizes exposure to the abdomen and should always be used for dental x-rays. Dental X-ray exams do not need to be delayed if you are trying to become pregnant or are breastfeeding.

Radiation dosages can be lowered by taking certain precautions. At our dental office, we use lead-lined vests with thyroid collars that offer further protection of that sensitive glandular area. Also, taking x-ray images by digital processes, as we do here at Cheek Dental, greatly reduces the dose of radiation as compared to traditional film x-rays. If a previous dentist has any recent radiographs of you, request that copies of them be sent to your new dentist as having those may reduce the number of new x-rays needed. If you have concerns about radiation from x-rays, discuss those concerns with your dentist to be sure he or she is imaging only what is necessary for your particular needs.

This article was written by Dr. Cristi Cheek, owner of Cheek Dental here in East Cobb, and originally appeared in the September issue of the EAST COBBER magazine, on page 43. Click here to view the digital edition.