Dental X-rays are important because they allow dentists to identify developing conditions and signs of oral health problems; X-rays show images and detail that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
What are X-rays?
X-rays have been used in medicine and dentistry for many years and date back to 1895. Physicist Wilhelm Roentgen first experimented with X-rays and found that bone was highly visible when rays from a cathode tube passed through the skin.
As science and technology have evolved, people now have a much clearer understanding of how X-rays work; X-rays are actually a form of energy that passes through objects in the form of waves. When an object is dense, the waves are absorbed, but, if the object is less dense, the waves will continue to pass through. Hard tissues such as bone and teeth are dense, so they appear very clearly on film, while soft tissues, including gums and cheeks, appear much less clearly and often just look like black masses.
What are X-rays used for?
X-rays are commonly used in medicine to detect bone fractures, obstructions in the intestines and certain forms of cancer and lung diseases. In dentistry, X-rays are used to detect cavities, show areas of decay, check the state of a filling, check the root canals, check for bone loss and identify abnormalities in the mouth, such as cysts or swellings. X-rays are also commonly used when a patient is about to undergo treatment, such as orthodontic treatment, dental implants and dentures, as a means of allowing the dentist to create an effective treatment plan. In children, X-rays may be used to monitor the development of the teeth and jaw bone.
People with good oral health do not normally require dental X-rays and X-rays will usually only be recommended for people with symptoms of oral health problems and underlying health conditions, which contribute to oral health problems.
Are X-rays safe?
Most people have seen stories about the potential dangers associated with X-rays in the media and this may have left you wondering about whether it is safe for you to have a dental X-ray. All types of radiation can cause damage; however, only very tiny amounts of radiation are used in medical and dental X-rays and you should only be advised to have an X-ray if you actually need one. In the past, people used to have X-rays more frequently and some dentists included them as part of a routine examination. However, in recent years, experts have urged dentists to be judicious when it comes to carrying out X-rays and they are only ordered when they are required as part of the patient’s treatment plan.
Recently, a number of measures have been introduced to protect patients from damage caused by radiation. The X-ray dose has been reduced so the beam is only focused on the area that is being examined, film holders have been introduced and the quality of the film has been improved, meaning X-rays can be done quicker. There is also strict regulation to ensure all X-ray machines are checked on a regular basis.
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