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Don’t Fear The X-Ray

Dental X-Rays Explained

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For years now, x-rays have been a standard part of dental care and most of us are used to the idea and have been since we were little kids. Being used to something does not always mean being OK with it though, and it's fair to say that more than a few people are a little nervous and scared about dental x-rays and some even avoid them, fearing that an x-ray may in some way be harmful to their health. 

The fact is that dental x-rays are very safe, and in the 21st century they are safer than ever before. Yes, a very low level of radiation is produced when an x-ray is taken - that is, after all, how they do their 'job' - but you are actually exposed to more radiation during an hour's flight on a plane than you are during a routine four image bite wing x-ray session!

However, if you are still a little wary it might help for us to explain dental x-rays, why we need them and what they really involve in a little more detail:

Who Needs Dental X-Rays?

Our Dentists. Dr Amrinder Oberoi & Dr David Graham

Our Dentists. Dr Amrinder Oberoi & Dr David Graham

Dental x-rays are used by dentists to help them get a clear look at oral health issues that may be hard - or even impossible - for them to see with the naked eye, even the very trained eye of a dentist. Making use of these images your dentist can: 

  • Decay, including areas of decay that are often 'hiding' between the teeth or underneath an old filling or crown. 
  • Abscesses, which are basically areas of infection that sit at the root of a tooth or between a tooth and the gum. 
  • Bone loss caused by gum disease 
  • Changes or abnormalities in the root canal of a tooth

If an x-ray is not performed some of these issues may be missed and go untreated until the condition is more serious and painful than it needed have been. In addition a dental x-ray can also help a dentist when they are preparing fillings, crowns and braces. 


Kids and Dental X-Rays

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Some parents are especially concerned that dental x-rays may be harmful to their kids, as they are younger and smaller and their bodies are still growing and developing. However, the very low levels of radiation are so low that they are safe for kids of all ages and a dental x-ray can be especially useful to a dentist when he or she is treating a child. Why? Because thanks to an x-ray a dentists can: 

  • Ensure the child's mouth is big enough to properly accommodate incoming teeth.
  • Determine whether or not primary teeth are loosening properly to allow secondary teeth to erupt properly. 
  • Monitor the growth of wisdom teeth. 
  • Identify gum disease and decay at an earlier stage. 

It is especially important that children visit the dentist regularly - at least every six months - and that get x-rays when their dentists recommends them. Childhood is a crucial time in terms of oral health and a lack of dental care when you are a kid can have serious lasting effects well into adulthood. 

Dental X-Rays and Pregnancy 

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As a general rule pregnant women are advised to avoid x-rays while pregnant, not because there is any real proven danger to them or their unborn child but as a matter of simple and sensible precaution. 

Dental care is very important during pregnancy though and there are certain situations in which a very carefully administered x-ray may still be necessary. For example, it is an accepted fact that periodontal disease in pregnant women can have adverse effects on their pregnancy, and so in some cases a patient's dentist and OB may agree that an x-ray presents far less of a risk than the damage that can be caused by gum disease, as several bodies of research have found that women suffering from gum disease during pregnancy are at an increased risk for giving birth to a pre-term or low birth weight baby. 

If an x-ray is called for during pregnancy a dentist consults with a patient's OB first and extra protections like having the patient wear a lead lined apron and thyroid collar and keeping the number of images taken to an absolute minimum.

Every dental professional does understand that there are lots of things that many people find scary and daunting about a visit to the dentist's office and are more than happy to discuss concerns they have before any procedure, including dental x-rays, is started. If you have concerns about x-rays and whether or not they are really needed, ask and any dentists will be more than willing to address - and allay - your fears, even if they seem a bit silly to you. 

One inexpensive alternative to standard floss in a box are floss sticks, or floss picks as they are also known. Lots of people do prefer these to standard floss as a lot of the measuring and guesswork is taken out of the equation and although you can only really use each pick once for hygiene reasons, making it a bit pricier to use them, the potential oral health benefits of actually flossing make the investment worth it.

There are also several different kinds of 'mechanical flossers' on the market. Some make use of water, some make use of air and they are priced anywhere between $10 and about $75, depending on the model you choose. Some do work well, and a water flosser can be an especially good choice for those with braces or bridges, as they can remove food particles that brushes and flosses often miss. Should you make the larger investment in one of these gadgets? If you struggle to floss now but think they might change that, by all means go ahead.

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Dental x-rays are safe and the images they produce are the key to making sure we receive the correct information to treat you appropriately.

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