X-rays are an important diagnostic tool for me. They are as vital to me as getting blood work done with your medical practitioner or chest x-rays with your cardiologist. Without them, I cannot fully determine your oral health, which is my sole purpose. Getting radiographs taken every six months allows me to detect any problems early on.
Many patients have concerns about x-rays. But, the American Dental Association (ADA) states that a person absorbs more radiation from the sun every single day than x-rays taken at the dentist every six months. Since our radiographs are digital, the radiation exposure is extremely less than traditional methods.
This graph shows the amount of radiation each person receives from dental x-rays in comparison to other sources of radiation.
The first thing that radiographs help me with is determining bone levels in your teeth. One of the biggest causes of tooth loss is periodontal disease, or disease of the gums and bone. It begins as gingivitis and can grow uncontrollably into sever gum “periodontal” disease. The x-rays help to determine bone levels and the condition of bone loss due to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can be determined by looking at the gums, but in all cases radiographs are needed to determine severity of bone loss.
Why do I need to determine bone levels? Identifying bone loss early, through x-rays taken every six months, allows me to be able to address the likelihood of patients’ having periodontal disease. Horizontal bone loss suggests aggressive periodontal disease, but that can be treated with great results. However, vertical bone loss is a more aggressive disease and is more difficult to achieve a good results.
The straight yellow line depicts the bone level on healthy teeth. The wavy line below identifies this patient’s actual level of bone. This tells me the patient has severe bone loss.
Secondly, radiographs are also helpful in diagnosing oral pathology from identifying cysts to cancerous lesions, broken roots, cavities, and failing restorations (just to name a few!), which are impossible to determine by visual examination alone. In addition, anything that is happening below the teeth and gums, I cannot see. Ethically and legally I need x-rays to keep my patients safe, healthy, and out of pain, and – most importantly – keeping your out of pocket costs low.
X-rays identified a tumor in the lower jaw.
I have seen many cases where a new patient came to me in pain, after seeing his/her dentist just 6 months ago. Upon taking new x-rays I have found a broken tooth after a root canal, a crown that doesn’t fit correctly causing un-comfortability, and an abscess that has formed. And not just with new patients, even with current patients that see me religiously, cavities and decay can develop within six months or less.
Thirdly, x-rays identify things in your mouth that are going on that I could never determine just by sight. I want to stress the importance of these radiographs because they will identify problems even when the patient isn’t experiencing any symptoms. If your tooth hurts, you could have more than a little cavity, it could be an infection or a fractured tooth. When it hurts, you have waited too long.
Patient has a fractured molar tooth. Indeterminable by looking at the tooth surface.
Insurance Companies and Radiograph Restrictions
Although x-rays are an important tool in the diagnostic process, insurance companies usually have restrictions and frequency limitations on what type of x-rays can be taken, when and how many are allowed. Even though x-rays are all the same, just the techniques are different, insurances sometimes won’t pay for them. Sometimes with the restriction from the insurance companies the patient will have to pay out of pocket for the necessary x-rays so that I can determine the condition of the teeth.
I reassure you that we would never take x-rays if it was not necessary or essential for the overall well being of your oral health.
Another diagnostic tool I use is my camera. This camera allows me to take highly detailed pictures that allows the patient to see cavities, decay, and other problems above the gum line.