Why all the X-Rays?

In our practice here at Johns Family Dentistry, we follow the standards of taking radiographs that has been established by the American Dental Association. But why do you need dental x-rays? In this blog, let me break it down a bit so you can understand.

At our initial visit appointment and every 5 years afterwards , Dr. Johns needs a full-mouth series of x-rays. A full mouth x-ray is composed of a series of individual images, including a combination of bitewing and periapical. Dr. Johns and the hygienists use these initial images as a baseline on the health of your mouth. These radiographs are necessary to examine the dentition and supporting structures of the mouth. This film gives Dr. Johns a clear view of each tooth and allows him to look for decay and bone loss and infection.


Within the first year at our practice, after a patient has had the full-mouth series of x-rays, Dr. Johns recommends that you have a panoramic film done. A panoramic image is a two-dimensional dental x-ray that captures the entire mouth in a single image, including teeth, upper and lower jaws and the surrounding structures and tissues, such as the joint and sinuses. The panoramic film can reveal advanced periodontal disease, cysts in the jaw bones, jaw tumors and oral cancer, impacted wisdom teeth, jaw disorders and sinusitis. Dr. Johns also recommends that this film is taken every 5 years, unless he is monitoring an area and has specifically requested it taken more frequently.

Depending on the patients caries rate, Dr. Johns will make his recommendation for taking bitewing x-rays. These x-rays are typically taken during a check-up once a year and look primarily at your molars and front teeth. This series does not capture every tooth. What is a caries rate? Dr. Johns performs a caries risk assessment as part of your examination. This is to predict future caries before the clinical onset of the disease. Risk factors are the lifestyle and biochemical determinants that contribute to the development and progression of the disease.

Are they safe? If you’ve ever wondered why your dentist draped you in a lead apron and all of their staff step out of the room each time you need a dental X-ray, it’s normal to have some concern about the safety of the procedure.

Fortunately, getting dental X-rays today is extremely safe…and the only reason why your dental team stays far away, is because of the risk of gradual exposure that accumulates day after day throughout their career.

Otherwise, dental X-rays are usually nothing to be concerned about!

At Johns Family Dentistry, we take digital x-rays. A digital X-ray requires less radiation to capture a high-resolution image than the traditional X-rays used a few decades ago. Depending on the type of film, equipment, and image being taken, it may be as much as a 90% reduction in exposure! As such, it’s safe to say that today’s dental X-rays are extremely safe.

Compared to not getting dental X-rays, the tiny amount of radiation exposure is an important trade off. Why? Because diagnostic imaging allows dentists to see inside and around the tooth structures where pathology (such as bone loss, oral cancer, or tooth decay) commonly lurk. Diagnosing them as early as possible allows for less-invasive and more cost-effective treatments. Otherwise, such problems can’t be detected until they’ve reached an advanced state that requires more aggressive therapies to manage.

Every day, we’re exposed to radiation. It comes from the sun, our cell phones, and even riding in an airplane (the longer the airplane ride, the more radiation you’re exposed to!)

But when you get a set of four “bitewing” X-rays (the images that are usually taken about once a year to check for new cavities,) the total amount of radiation is only about 0.005 mSv (micro-Sieverts,) which is less than an average daily dose of radiation in everyday life.

To give you an idea of other types of radiation encountered in everyday activities, consider these comparisons:

• Going through an airport security scanner 80 times is the equivalent to a single day of casual radiation exposure. 1,000 times equals the amount of radiation used for a chest X-ray.
• An average 7-hour plane ride exposes each passenger to approximately 0.02 mSv (or 16 small dental X-rays).

But your office takes photographs too!  Intraoral photographs are an important addition to patient records (charting, radiographs, study models). They provide a static, in-depth look at the patient’s dentition that is easily reviewed and compared with the patient’s other records. They not only help with education, showing you a picture of tooth breaking down, is far easier to see and grasp compared to trying to read an x-ray, but it is also one more piece of evidence that we can submit on your behalf to insurance. Also, we do not have an in-house laboratory. We have to send your case to our ceramist. Sending photographs to the laboratory, help ensure that your case turns out exceptional.

If you have questions about dental X-rays or how often imaging is necessary to keep your smile healthy, be sure to speak with one of here at Johns Family Dentistry.