Having X-rays taken during a dental exam has become so commonplace that no one gives it a second thought. Almost every dentist uses the technology to see beyond what is visible on the surface of the tooth. When you stop to think about X-rays, you might be asking yourself, “How is this technology detecting tooth disorders?”

Dental X-rays are essential for the diagnosis of tooth disorders. Many oral problems might not be noticed unless seen in an X-ray. For example, if you have waited a long time before you have visited the dentist, the X-ray might show a buildup of tartar or calculus as a wisp or thorn projecting from the sides of the teeth underneath the gums where you cannot see them. This will tell dentists what treatments you might need. Without the X-rays, they wouldn’t know that you had a problem with calculus under the gum line. Thorns of calculus are a primary cause of gum disease.

X-rays give dentists an idea if you need root canals or if the teeth are still functioning as they should. When an infection reaches into the center of a tooth, known as the pulp, it can cause patients pain and discomfort. The infection also can kill a tooth, which will make the tooth begin to discolor. When a tooth starts to darken due to infection in the pulp, dentists have to remove the infection and center part of the tooth. Before providing root canal therapy, dentists will take an X-ray to verify if the center of the tooth is infected and causing problems for the patient.

If you have a dental crown or need one, an X-ray will tell the dentist how it’s working or what is causing you problems that a dental crown would restore. While dental crowns are expected to last 10 to 20 years, some crowns break. X-rays can see whether cracks are in the crowns immediately. X-rays also can see underneath the crown to make sure the tooth is still doing OK. If you do have a crack in your crown, it can be painful because food can get trapped in the crack. X-rays will let a dentist know if food is stuck under a crown or in a crack. The dentist will know how to treat you if you experience these problems.

Are X-rays Safe?

According to the American Dental Association, taking X-rays will not harm you even though they use very low levels of radiation exposure. The risks of harmful effects are the same as people who work in nuclear power plants and sitting at a computer all day. The tools and techniques used today, such as the digital X-rays, are made to restrict exposure to radiation. Dental staff at professional dental practices makes sure patients are exposed to as little radiation as possible.

The assistant will place a leaded apron on you to minimize exposure to the abdomen without interfering with the picture. Assistants also might use a leaded thyroid collar to keep radiation from the thyroid.

X-ray technology has been used for years to help dentists detect problems with your teeth that may otherwise go unnoticed. They are a safe and effective tool that will help keep your teeth healthy.

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Dr. Jonathan Everett Of Kirkland Family Dentistry received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington and completed his undergraduate studies in biochemistry at Washington State University. A member of the American Dental Association and Academy of Operative Dentistry, Dr. Everett strives to continue providing the most advanced and clinically-proven dental care available in the region. Dr. Everett is the recipient of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists Award.

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