Dental X-ray Radiation: Why are x-rays needed, and how much risk are they?

Medically Reviewed By
Jonathan G. Campbell, DDS, FAGD
One of the top rated Dentist in Salt Lake City, UT

Dental appointments can be a dreaded experience for some patients, while others eagerly await their visits. Past experiences shape our feelings regarding dental visits. One common cause of dental anxiety in patients is dental x-rays.

Some patients have strong gag reflexes that cause them to fear the dental sensor in their mouths. Other patients have small mouths, and this can make the dental sensor not to fit as well. Others may have bony growths in their mouths called tori that make it hard to fit the dental sensor comfortably.

Why are Dental X-rays needed?

The question arises, why so many different types of dental x-rays are needed when you go to the dentist? Different x-rays are required for various reasons.

Bitewing Dental X-ray

We take Bitewing x-rays to see if there are cavities between your back teeth. Bitewings also show us if you have healthy bone support. We are also able to see calculus (tartar) that may be under your gums between your teeth.

Periapical or PA X-ray

We may take a periapical or a PA x-ray if you have a tooth that is bothering you. A PA is a single tooth x-ray; it shows the tooth from the crown to the tip of the root. They also show us the level of the bone and can show us if you have an abscess or infection.

Full-Mouth Series

Every five years, we need a full-mouth set of x-rays, which is a combination of PAs and bitewings. A full-mouth series or bitewings and a panoramic image are taken on new patients or as need determined by the dentist. These are very valuable x-rays that give us a baseline of what our new patient’s needs are. Gum disease and cavities don’t often cause pain in the beginning stages, which is why detecting them with dental x-rays is so essential.

Panoramic X-ray

The panoramic film might be needed every five years. We have a brand new panoramic x-ray machine in our Millcreek office. This x-ray shows the entire mouth and surrounding structures in one image, including nasal structures sinuses and the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). This x-ray is used to evaluate wisdom teeth. It is also helpful in diagnosing impacted teeth, cysts, fractures, infections, and tumors. A Panorex film can even spot a clogged carotid artery, which can potentially save a life!

Dental Cone Beam CT

At Legacy Dental in Salt Lake City, we are also lucky enough to have a Dental Cone Beam CT or 3D digital dental x-ray machine. This machine can evaluate many different things, including:
• Implant placement
• Pain
• Bone loss from periodontal disease
• Wisdom teeth removal
• Orthodontic movement of teeth namely impacted teeth
• Teeth before root canal therapy
• Temporomandibular joints (TMJ)
• Impingements on the airway
• Skeletal changes in the skull and jaws
• Bony pathology if any is present

The 3D dental imaging has proved to be very useful in our office, and the cost is reasonable considering all that it shows.

How much radiation is in dental x-rays?

Another concern that patients have is exposure to radiation. This concern is one we hear a lot in our office. Hopefully, by the end of this article, we will have alleviated this concern.

It’s essential to keep in mind that there are many other forms of radiation that are much worse than dental x-rays before understanding dental radiation exposure. The maximum annual dose permitted for U.S. radiation workers is 50.0 mSv (millisievert).

Now let’s compare that to the amount of radiation in the most common x-rays taken in the dental office, bitewing x-rays. The amount of radiation one is exposed to when four bitewing x-rays are taken digitally is 0.02 mSv. To understand the amount of radiation 0.02 mSv is, compare it the number of radiation exposures from the list below:
• CT scan- 10.0 mSv
• Mammogram- 0.42 mSv
• Radiation in the US from natural sources on an annual basis- 3.0 mSv
• Chest x-ray- 0.10 mSv
• Radon in the average US home on an annual basis 2.28 mSv
• Annual dose received by food and water (potassium) is 0.4 mSv
• A cross country flight from New York to Los Angeles comes with a dosage of 0.04 mSv
• Living in brick/stone/concrete house gives you an annual dose of 0.007 mSv
• Smoking one pack of cigarettes is 0.0049 mSv.
• Eating a banana is 0.0001 mSv

As shown from the numbers, one is receiving less radiation than if they were to fly from New York to LA!

At Legacy Dental, your Millcreek dentist, we are committed to giving our patients the best care possible. We only take dental x-rays as they are needed. If you have any questions, we are here to answer and help any way we can.
Saving the world one tooth at a time!!!

Legacy Dental blog is proudly run by our Salt Lake City dentists team; We share knowledge about general dental care and practices. Apart from running this blog, we offer various dental services such as general dentistry, emergency dentistry, and dental implants for the community in Salt Lake City, Utah

How to reach us in and around Salt Lake City, Utah

Monday: 8.00am – 8:00pm
Tuesday: 8.00am – 8:00pm
Wednesday: 8.00am – 8:00pm
Thursday: 8.00am – 8:00pm
Friday: 8.00am – 5:00pm
Saturday: 8.00am – 2:00pm
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