Apart from Superman, the closest us mere mortals will get to having x-ray vision is a machine generated X-ray image or radiograph. Not that exciting I hear you say. For dentists X-rays provide the ultimate superpower in their diagnostic bag.

The ability to see inside your teeth; in between those tight crevices of your teeth; and below the gum’s surface gives your dentist the necessary information to provide you with a comprehensive assessment of the your teeth and gums.

Dental X-rays provide your dentist with an essential tool that shows:

  • the condition of your teeth;
  • your teeth’s roots;
  • jaw placement; and
  • the overall composition of your facial bones.

X-rays can help your dentist determine the presence or extent of periodontal (gum) disease, abscesses (not pleasant) and many abnormal growths, such as cysts and tumors. X-rays also can pinpoint the exact location of impacted and unerupted teeth. They can identify the location of cavities and other signs of disease that may not be possible to detect through a visual examination.

How often do I need X-rays?

How often you need dental X-rays is based on your dentist’s assessment of your individual needs, including whether you are a new patient, follow-up patient, adult or child.

In most cases a new patient will require a full set of mouth X-rays so that the dentist can evaluate their oral health status, including any underlying signs of gum disease, and for future comparison.

Follow-up or existing patients may require X-rays to monitor their gum condition or chances of tooth decay.

Your lifestyle plays a big part in this equation and that it why it is important to establish an ongoing relationship with your dentist. If your dentist knows you and your teeth, the kind of life you lead, and your oral health concerns, they can more accurately determine your risk of dental disease. Your dentist can then work with you to identify the best ways to improve your oral health in the short and long term.

When your dentist recommends that you have a set of dental X-rays taken they are acting responsibly and have your teeth’s best interests at heart; they are not simply trying to pull money out of your wallet.

Are dental X-Rays dangerous?

The Australian Dental Association has reassured the Australian public that dental X-rays are safe:

  • US studies have revealed that the levels of radiation to which patients are exposed with a single dental X-ray is 0.0067% of the level of exposure from a mammogram or 0.5% of the level of exposure from an aeroplane flight from the equivalent of Sydney to Perth.
  • Dentists are required to undertake regular training in the use of X-rays to maximise safety for patients, and the dental profession maintains a high standard of radiation hygiene for patients and staff.
  • Dentists are very aware of their responsibility in the appropriate use of dental x-rays depending on the clinical presentation of their patients. Therefore there is no reason to decline X-ray examination when advised by your dentist.

Why do dental X-rays cost so much?

I often have people ask why X-rays cost so much given the x-rays are digital and most dental surgeries have these machines on-site.

Not wanting to shock you: but X-ray machines are expensive. A piece of X-ray equipment is a sophisticated and technologically advanced machine and accordingly is pretty expensive to purchase. In some cases the dentist won’t own this equipment and are paying leasing costs. In addition, the software and computers to digitally process the x-rays cost a pretty penny.

The bottom line is that X-rays do not carry a large profit margin for a dentist. X-rays enable your dentist to do the best job of looking after your teeth by identifying existing and potential problems. Obviously if the price seems outrageous, then I always recommend that you seek a second opinion.

Pregnancy and dental X-rays

If possible it is a really good idea to have a comprehensive dental check-up that includes X-rays before you try to conceive a baby. Once your fertility mojo has kicked in and you or your partner is pregnant, dental x-rays are no longer recommended for the mother.

It is much easier and more comfortable to have any dental niggles taken care of before potentially waiting 9 months to have these problems addressed. Without an X-ray some dental disease may remain undetected and therefore untreated until more serious symptoms present.

Even though your dentist isn’t a superhero (and probably wouldn’t look good in lycra) x-rays enable them to see potential problems that simply can’t be seen with the naked eye. X-rays don’t make your dentist superman, but they can save the day.

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