Dental professionals today are increasingly using digital dental radiographs (digital X-rays) to better detect, diagnose, treat, and monitor oral conditions and diseases. Digital radiographs are viewed instantly on a selected computer screen, manipulated to enhance contrast and detail, and transmitted electronically to specialists (if needed) without quality loss.
One of the biggest advantages of digital x-rays is early detection of dental concerns. Digital radiographs reveal small hidden areas of decay between teeth or below existing restorations (fillings), bone infections, gum (periodontal) disease, abscesses or cysts, developmental abnormalities and tumors that cannot be detected with only a visual dental examination. All of these findings can be detected and treated promptly with use of x-rays, in turn saving the patient time, money and discomfort.
There has been controversy and misunderstanding about the level of radiation that patients are exposed to in order to make these images. Cone beam digital images may be made in various sizes with the larger size images requiring more radiation than the smaller images. Digital dental radiographs require very minimal radiation.
As an example, observe the following data from Journal of the American Medical Association; Lancet; and the American College of Radiology (Quoted in TIME June 25, 2012)
One chest x-ray equals the following:
- 1,400 dental radiographs (These are the small dental radiographs with which you are familiar. Cone beam requires several times more radiation, but it is still very small).
- 240 five hour flights
- 70,000 back scatter airport scans
- 19 years of smoking a pack of cigarettes per day
Dental x-rays, in fact, are one of the lowest radiation dose studies performed. At your dental hygiene appointment, once a year the hygienist updates 4 bite wing x-rays, showing in between the teeth. These 4 radiographs are about 0.005 mSv (radiation released), which is less than one day of natural background radiation. It is also about the same amount of radiation exposure from a short airplane flight (1-2 hours).
Try not to worry so much about the radiation.
Trust your dental practitioner to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of providing a radiograph for you.