At White Dental Studio, we feel blessed to have an amazing group of patients who are health conscious. In the tight knit community of Ashland, there are many people who work very hard to take care of their mind, body and spirit. In fact, we see patients from all over Southern Oregon and Northern California who seek us out because they identify with our environmentally-friendly dentistry approach. In addition to our efforts to provide more environmentally-friendly dentistry, our patients are often looking for a practice that will respect their wishes to keep their care fluoride free. Some are looking for an office that will use not only mercury free, but also BPA free filling materials, as we do. No matter the reason you have found us, one question we often hear is, “Do I really need dental x-rays?” In some cases patients wish to refuse x-rays, even when recommended by Dr. White. Some patients feel that x-rays are not necessary due to a lack of understanding of the diagnostic benefits. Others may have health concerns based on incorrect or misleading information they have received regarding radiation exposure. We completely understand your concerns and want you to feel nothing but comfortable with the care you receive. In this post, I hope to fill in some information gaps, and dispel some of the myths surrounding x-rays.
Why do I need dental x-rays? So, why do you need x-rays taken in the first place? To many people, the thought of taking an x-ray when they have a possible fracture to their arm is a no brainer. Yet, they don’t feel as certain about the necessity when it comes to a routine dental x-ray. I think we can attribute this to the fact that when you think you may have a broken arm – it hurts! You know that by taking an x-ray it will allow the doctor to see if there is a break, and if so, how to fix it. Similarly, when a patient comes to a dental office in pain, they’re typically okay with taking an x-ray because they know it’s the first step to diagnosis and then getting them out of discomfort. But when it comes to routine or “checkup” x-rays, often patients aren’t as sure why they are necessary. If you’re not in pain or presenting with an obvious problem, what’s the purpose?
The simple answer to that question is early diagnosis and prevention. In dentistry, we work diligently to prevent issues before they start, or control a small problem before it becomes a large one. Yes, Dr. White is able to see some things with his eyes, but there is no substitute for the additional information he can gather by looking below the surface with an x-ray. He likes to compare it to an iceberg – you can see the tip of the iceberg above water, but there’s so much more below the water that you’re not able to see with just your eyes. X-rays allow us to peer below the surface and find things like decay, an abscess forming, or maybe even a tooth coming in where it’s not supposed to be. There are so many things we can find with an x-ray that we might not otherwise until you’re in pain, or worse, the tooth is so far gone it cannot be saved. By taking x-rays on a regular schedule, we can also monitor your overall oral health by looking for changes over time. By comparing past and present images, Dr. White may be able to see signs of gum disease and bone loss beginning, or perhaps a tooth that has changed from one visit to the next. Put simply, an x-ray is the most effective diagnostic tool your dentist has.
Why do I need more dental x-rays when I already had a panoramic x-ray taken? Sometimes a dentist or a dental specialist will take a panoramic radiograph that allows them to see all of your teeth and surrounding bone and nerves in one single panoramic view. Since this type of image shows not only all of your teeth but also parts of your upper and lower jaw, they are able to reveal things like impacted wisdom teeth, cysts, or any abnormal growths or tumors.
While a panoramic x-ray (panorex, pano, pan) gives us a great general comprehensive view of your mouth, there are some things it doesn’t show well. Most importantly – decay between your teeth. Periapical and bitewing dental x-rays (the small x-rays that show only a few teeth at a time) give the doctor a close, detailed view of your teeth. These small x-rays show Dr. White things that a panoramic radiograph isn’t capable of revealing, and will help him to catch decay and other issues early on. So, even if you’ve had a panoramic x-ray recently with another office, if you don’t have updated bitewings and periapical x-rays we are going to need to take some to make sure we are staying on top of decay or other potential issues.
Do I have to have x-rays every year? Not necessarily. As we discussed above, we take routine x-rays so we can monitor for changes and hopefully catch any issues early on or even before the patient has symptoms. But the frequency at which we take those x-rays can vary from patient to patient. Frequency is based on Dr. White’s assessment. For new patients to the practice, we may need to start with a full mouth series of dental x-rays so that Dr. White can make a detailed analysis of your overall oral health (unless you have a recent full mouth series transferred from another provider). From this assessment he will determine the frequency with which he would like x-rays taken for you.
For many patients x-rays are recommended every twelve months, but for others Dr. White may feel comfortable waiting as long as eighteen or in some cases twenty four months. His determination of recommended x-ray frequency depends on the status of the patient’s oral health. Do you have a lot of restorations that are at risk for new decay or may soon be in need of replacement that we need to monitor closely? Are you a child at high risk for decay? Do you have active periodontal disease that requires we watch your bone levels? If so, then Dr. White is likely going to want x-rays more often then with someone who doesn’t have these risk factors.
We understand that often patients feel that because they’re not having any discomfort and they have been x-rayed by us in the past, that they don’t want new x-rays. But as we discussed earlier, you may not always feel an issue that is starting to brew that an x-ray will reveal. How happy would you be with us if we didn’t take an x-ray at Dr. White’s recommended frequency that would have revealed an issue, and later you end up losing a tooth because of it? As Dr. White likes to say, he won’t practice negligent dentistry. He has many years of dental education and is licensed by the state of Oregon to practice dentistry. If he does not use the tools at his disposal to care for his patients in the best way possible, he is not only putting their dental health at risk, but also his own dental license. For these reasons, regular x-rays are necessary for the proper diagnosis and treatment of our patients.
What about radiation exposure? I find radiation exposure to be the number one concern our patients have when it comes to dental x-rays – and for good reason! We understand that because radiation exposure is cumulative, many people are worried about taking “too many” x-rays. Rest assured, it is never our goal to take more x-rays than necessary. Dr. White practices the principle of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Acceptable). He takes only the number of x-rays he determines will be necessary to diagnose a situation or to monitor your oral health. White Dental Studio also utilizes digital radiography. What this means for our patient is that the amount of radiation you receive is a fraction of what it was back in the days of film x-rays.
Most of us don’t think about it, but we are receiving radio feedback every day and everywhere we go. Did you know that by eating a banana, or by living in a brick house that you are receiving minute amounts of radiation? Just walking down the street on a sunny day exposes you to radiation. Would it surprise you to learn that a cross country flight from New York to Los Angeles exposes you to twice as much radiation as a set of four digital bitewing x-rays? Obviously, avoiding exposure as much as possible is prudent. When my girls are due for their x-rays with the current technology employed by our office, I find it a relief to know that their radiation exposure is extremely minimal.
Once your adult teeth are in, they are the only teeth you’ll ever have for the rest of your life. Think about how many years that might be and just how much we demand of our teeth on a daily basis! I think most of us understand just how important the health of our teeth, gums and mouths are to our overall health. Studies have shown connections between poor oral health and heart disease, and even pre-term and low birth weight babies. It’s vitally important to make sure you’re doing all you can to keep your mouth and body healthy. At White Dental Studio, Dr. White and our team take our job of helping you reach and maintain your dental health goals very seriously. Part of assisting you in this requires taking routine and diagnostic dental x-rays. I hope this post has helped answer some questions you may have had on this subject, and feel free to reach out to us if there are any others we can help address!