Oral health considerations

X-rays in dentistry

Frequently asked questions:

Are X-rays really necessary?

Yes, there are many diseases and disorders, such as caries, gum disease, cysts and tumors, which cannot be detected just by looking at your mouth.
Many diseases and disorders do not produce signs or symptoms, without the use of x-rays these could go unnoticed for long periods. When progressing, there is more damage, which in turn makes the treatment more extensive and expensive. Some oral diseases can even affect your general health or endanger your life.
X-rays are always taken for your own good; the basic benefit is the detection of the disease. With them, disorders and diseases that cannot be detected otherwise are identified in time. Early identification and treatment reduce and avoid problems, such as pain and the need for surgical procedures.

How often should I have X-rays taken?

The first step in limiting the amount of radiation you receive is the proper prescription of x-rays. Decisions about the number, type and frequency of X-rays are determined by the dentist based on individual needs.
As each patient's dental disorder is different, the frequency of exams is diverse as well.
For example, a patient prone to developing tooth decay or gum disease needs more frequent exams than a healthy one.

How often should children undergo X-rays?

As with adults, the interval between radiographic exams is based on the child's individual needs. As each dental condition is different, the frequency of exams is also diverse.

Can I refuse X-rays and be treated without them?

No. When you refuse to perform any complementary test prescribed by the professional, considered essential to perform the treatment, the dentist will not be able to treat you. Treatment without the necessary x-rays or complementary tests is considered negligent.

Instead of undergoing X-rays, can you use X-rays taken by my previous dentist?

Yes. Previous radiographs can be used, assuming they are recent and have an acceptable diagnostic quality. However, additional x-rays may be necessary, based on your individual needs. If your previous radiographs have no diagnostic quality, it is necessary to take them again, even if they are recent.

How are x-rays measured?

Special units are used to measure the exposure and absorption of X-rays. The radiation that reaches the surface of the skin is measured in Sievert units. The unit for the dose, or amount of energy absorbed by a tissue, is called the absorbed radiation dose. Since small amounts of radiation are used during radiographic procedures, very small multiples of these radiation units are used. The micro prefix means 1/1,000,000, and is used to express small amounts of radiation doses in microSieverts.

How much radiation will I receive by X-rays?

Since no amount of radiation is considered safe, we follow guidelines to limit the amount of radiation you receive. For example, before the exposure, the dentist individualizes the X-ray order based on individual needs. During the procedure, leaded protectors, digital radiovisiography and CBCT devices of minimum radiation are used, in order to protect you from excess of radiation.

The Spanish Nuclear Safety Council estimates the average dose, for the Spanish population, at a total of 3,700 μSv (microSievert) each year. Of them 2,400 μSv are due to natural radiation, (290 due to normal food and drink).
To get an idea, a radiovisiography produces 3 μSv of radiation, a panoramic radiography 20 μSv, a CBCT of a maxillary 30 μSv, and a full-head 200 μSv. 20 microSievert (20 μSv) is the dose that a person would receive on a plane trip between Spain and England.

Did you know...

Shellfish concentrate the radioactive material in such a way that, even without artificial radioactivity, people who consume large amounts of mussels, oysters and sea snails may receive a dose of natural radioactivity due to feeding up to 50% higher than average?

Why do I wear a lead apron?

A lead apron is used to protect your reproductive tissues, blood-forming and thyroid tissues from scattered radiation; lead acts as a shield and actually prevents radiation from reaching these radiosensitive organs. The apron protects it from unnecessary exposure to radiation.

Should X-rays be taken during pregnancy?

When appropriate protective measures are used during radiographic procedures, the amount of radiation received in the gonads region is minimal. There is no detectable exposure to the embryon or fetus with the use of protective measures.
The effects of radiation depends on the gestation month in which the woman finds herself at, the first trimester being the stage with the highest risk.
Although scientific evidence indicates that dental X-ray procedures can be practiced during pregnancy, (it is estimated at more than 100,000 μSv necessary to cause damage to the fetus) many dentists prefer to postpone these due to the patient's concern.

Are dental X-rays safe?

All X-rays are dangerous for living tissue. The amount of radiation received on dental radiographs is small; however, like any type of radiation, it produces biological damage. No amount of radiation is considered safe; as a result, dental X-rays should be prescribed only when the benefit of disease detection exceeds the risk.

Do dental X-rays cause cancer?

There is no known case of a patient with diagnostic X-ray cancer. The radiation exposure that occurs during the dental exam is very small and the probability of contributing to or causing cancer is very low. For example, the probable risk of an X-ray inducing a fatal cancer is estimated at 3 in 1,000,000.

Can panoramic X-rays be taken instead of a 3D CBCT or radiovisiography?

A panoramic radiograph cannot replace a CBCT or radiovisiography. CBCT is required when information is needed on the details of teeth, bone and joints; it yields a very complete and detailed information in 3 dimensions, necessary for example to plan cases of dental implants and orthodontics.
Panoramic X-ray, being 2D, does not clearly reveal changes in teeth, such as tooth decay or bone details, however, it is useful to show the general condition of the patient's teeth and bone. Radiovisiography, even if it is 2D, is useful for assessing bone and dental changes focused on small areas, offering a good level of detail.

Who owns dental X-rays?

All of your dental records, including X-rays, are property of the dentist. However, you have the right of access to your records. For example, this means that you can request a copy of your X-rays or have them sent to the dentist of your choice.

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