Digital X-Rays

Digital dental X-rays are superior to traditional X-rays because they use less radiation, are more accurate and provide immediate results.

Why is it important to have X-rays taken during routine dental visits?

Dr. Darren McKeever: Well, the quick answer on that is to find things early. It is that simple. When a dentist does a clinical exam and looks directly at somebody’s teeth, their gums, and all that, you can only see what you literally can see. X-rays allow us to look deeper through tissues, through the tooth structure, through the gum, through the bone, and that way we can find things that are lurking and treat them in a much earlier state. I don’t know anybody out there who would want to wait to have treatment that is more extensive, and therefore more expensive. Finding things early is really key. By taking X-rays out of the dental exam, you are really poking one of the eyes out of the dentist and you are really not going to be able to find things as early as possible.

How often do X-rays need to be taken?

Dr. Darren McKeever: Well, this is really a broad topic question. There are recommendations from the American Dental Association about how frequently X-rays should be taken. People don’t realize that if you have a history of decay or if you have poor oral hygiene, you can literally develop a cavity within two checkups. The American Dental Association, in those scenarios, will literally say the recommendation is at a six month interval. More often than not, most people don’t need X-rays every six months. I personally don’t agree with taking X-rays every six months, but every 12 months is not unusual. If you can find something early, you can treat it in a much more simpler mode than something that you allow to become extensive.

People don’t realize, they kind of think all X-rays are the same, and they’re not. If you compare dental X-rays to medical X-rays, dental X-rays are only about 2.5% of the effective dose of the typical medical X-ray. Very, very, very minimal. Digital dental X-rays reduce that amount by 40 to 60% even less, so you’re really dealing with such small amounts. When we tell people about how to compare the radiation that they are getting on dental X-rays, anyone who has flown from the New York area to Florida has gotten more radiation from the sun, from the ionosphere, from the atmosphere than a typical dental re-care series of four to six X-rays. You are really talking a minimal, minimal amount of radiation.

That doesn’t mean it is not significant. We try and practice radiation hygiene here to make sure we are only taking X-rays when we need to. Part of a typical routine periodic dental exam, X-rays are critical at certain intervals, and they really, really do need to be taken, or else you may wind up with a root canal in something that may only have been a filling nine or 12 months earlier.

You touched on this a little bit, but what makes the digital X-ray technology better than the traditional dental X-rays?

Dr. Darren McKeever: Well, it is not just the fact that the radiation is dramatically reduced compared to the old style film X-rays, which are still popular unfortunately. In addition to that, digital X-rays allow us through certain algorithms in the computer programming to make very accurate measurements of things that are going on on that X-ray. In addition to that, there are tools within the programming that allow us to see things a little more intensely, and therefore we can develop a diagnosis of an area with a lot greater accuracy. Digital X-rays have a lot of advantages over the old style film X-rays.

In addition, you have immediate results. As soon as the X-ray is taken, it comes up on the computer screen. Whereas, when you are taking an X-ray with old style film, it has to be developed. There is a process time for all of that. If you didn’t get the right picture, not only have you received more radiation, you have to do it again and you might be wasting another 10 minutes of your time. Digital X-rays have a big advantage over the old style films.

Do all dentists use digital X-rays now, or are some still only using the traditional X-ray machine?

Dr. Darren McKeever: I still get patients coming to us as new patients, and we still get them walking in with old style films. It is not uncommon to have old style films being taken. Unfortunately for the dentist, there is quite a cost to set up a digital practice. But, in my opinion, it is worth it. There are still a lot of dentists who still use film, and sometimes they try and justify it by saying they get better results. I personally don’t see how that’s possible, but I’m not going to argue with them.

Are digital X-rays safe for all kids and adults? If not, who should not be getting X-rays taken?

Dr. Darren McKeever: Well, we always make sure we use barriers to minimize scatter radiation for kids around the thyroid, pregnant women, things like that. We’re dealing with very, very minimal amounts of radiation, but it is still radiation. The only time where we may not want to do X-rays is with a pregnant lady, sometimes people who are having radiation therapy for cancer or things like that, because even a small increase in the radiation that they’re getting, you know, they feel uncomfortable with it. Sometimes you have to treat the patient emotionally rather than just dentally. For most people on the planet, the X-rays, especially digital X-rays are really rather safe in terms of what you’re going to learn from using the X-ray. You need that information. It is worth the subtle, small, minimal risk of the exposure to radiation to get that information.

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