Here’s a good question to ask when conversation gets dull on Saturday night: “What do a banana and a single-tooth dental X-ray have in common?” Answer: “They have about the same amount of radiation.”
Yes, that’s right. Just as our daily TV news keeps a steady stream of risk factors swirling all around us—from the effects of high cholesterol to the downside of not eating enough chia seeds—we can cross dental X-rays from the list. Reviewing the graph below, it is clear that radiation from dental X-rays is extremely low!
“Digital X-ray technology” is the big game-changer in today’s modern dental office. Not only does it ratchet down radiation exposure to that of a piece of fruit, but also the clarity and contrast of the images deliver a huge advantage in diagnosis and prevention.
Have you ever gone to the dentist stating you don’t “need” X-rays, “just a check-up?” If you were in my practice I would tell you we rely on X-rays to know what is going on in your mouth, the same way physicians need blood tests to know what is going on in your body.
And with digital X-rays, patients get even more. This technology shows the dentist what can’t be seen with his eyes. What I see with my eyes doesn’t show up well on X-rays. So, between what I see with my eyes and what I see with X-rays—I get a much more complete picture.
Aggressive prevention has made all the difference since the technology has become so sensitive that it picks up the most minor changes conventional X-rays did not. We can see things we have never seen before—smaller changes that help deliver big results. For example, in the past, we had “brushing” and “flossing” in our arsenal of advice. Now, X-rays detect decay in the earliest stages. We hit hard with preventive treatments, such as fluoride and some special rinses that change the PH in the mouth to neutralize the tiny beginnings of decay.
We have become adept at doing small things–aggressively–to pack a big preventive punch. Imagine the past when patients and doctors waited until decay turned into a full-fledged filling or a full crown or a root canal? Now it is amazing to find decay when it is just a tiny invader, hardly seen on X-ray. Then a special laser reaches it, hardly disturbing tooth structure, and zaps the decay away. A liquid “sealant” is “flowed” in and hardened to wall off the crevice of the tooth from any future invasion of decay. That’s what I call aggressive prevention.
In dentistry, by the time something hurts, the problem is usually a bigger one. Getting to things early is the key. So, when patients are concerned about radiation, I tell them this is a good trade-off, with a remarkably reduced dose of radiation—equivalent to a piece of fruit. We are able to see dental problems as small events–before they need big treatment.
Dr. Daniel J. Deutsch, practices at the Washington Center for Dentistry, in Washington, DC.