DEAR DR. BOLES: I’m always skittish about x-rays, even the ones you get at the dentist’s office every few years. I hate the idea of being exposed to unnecessary radiation. Is there a way to avoid dental x rays altogether? – Jess, New Hampton, NH
DEAR JESS: I understand your hesitation. While exposure to excessive radiation through repeated x-rays can be concerning, occasional, necessary x-rays usually do more good than harm. For dentists, x-rays are the best way to see what is going on beneath the surface of the tooth. We look to x-rays for early detection of decay, cavities, and even periodontal disease or bone loss. An x-ray can highlight an issue that wouldn’t be seen in a standard dental exam.
That being said, there are dentists, like myself, who have replaced traditional x-rays with digital x-rays. Digital x-rays are proven to reduce radiation exposure. In fact, the process uses up to 90 percent less radiation than typical film x-rays.
In addition, a digital x-ray is available almost immediately and provides a higher quality image than typical film x-rays. They can be enlarged on the computer screen, giving the dental team a much better view of what’s going on with a tooth and the supporting bone.
As a dentist, another thing I love about digital x-rays is how easy they are to share and send. If I have a patient who needs to be seen by a specialist, I can quickly and easily e-mail their x-rays to the other provider. Digital x-rays are also easier to organize. No more file cabinets full of patient x-rays…now I just store them all on my computer!
In my opinion, the benefits of dental x-rays outweigh the risks. For my patients, I am happy to be able to offer an alternative that minimizes these risks as much as possible.