All about digital x-rays!

Many of our patients have questions about digital x-rays and why x-rays are necessary, so we want to provide you with all the information that you need to make informed decisions. And always remember, we are here for you. Don’t hesitate to ask any of our staff about concerns that you may have.


What is a dental x-ray?


Traditionally, to produce an x-ray, the assistant or hygienist will place a film in the patient’s mouth and use an x-ray unit to expose that film to a specific measured amount of radiation. This produces an image on the film that is revealed when the film is run through a series of chemicals in a dark room. This process takes 5-10 minutes.


With digital x-rays, instead of a film, a sensor is placed in the patient’s mouth. The sensor is connected to a computer so that when it is exposed by the x-ray unit, the image is instantly produced onto the computer’s screen.

Exposure to Radiation


The sensor does not need the same amount of radiation that film does, so exposure to radiation for the patient is reduced. To give you an idea of what this means:


According to the American Nuclear Society, this is how much radiation you expect from common activities:


620 mrem/year = the average level of radiation per person in the US


50000 mrem/year = the safe allowable dose for people that are exposed to radiation in their work


1 mrem = two hours in a jet plane


700 mrem = abdominal x-ray
0.5 mrem = one dental x-ray


A digital x-ray will give off as little as 0.1 mrem!


Decreased Waiting Time


In addition, there is no more waiting time for processing films! This means more quality time with our patients.

Why Do We Need X-rays?


During a standard exam, the dentist is able to examine only visible surfaces of the teeth and soft tissue. X-rays allow the dentist to see small cavities that are developing in-between the teeth. Once these areas have become visible in the mouth, typically the tooth may already be decayed to the point where it needs a crown, root canal, or may even need to be extracted.


Routine films allow us to diagnose small cavities and repair them before they become bigger, painful and more expensive problems. Also, the doctor cannot see bone-loss without an x-ray which is painless until moderate to severe stages.


Additionally, x-rays allow the dentist to examine the mandible and maxilla for any unusual growths or abnormalities. While cancer and tumors of the jaw are rare, the prognosis is always better the earlier you treat these areas.


While digital x-rays do emit a very small amount of radiation, it is clear that the benefits greatly outweigh any minimal risks. We are very excited about the new technology that makes dentistry safer and more efficient for us and our patients.


If you have any questions about the content of this page, please call our friendly staff at 480-895-2111.

Dental X-rays

Dental radiographs (x-rays) are essential, preventative, diagnostic tools that provide valuable information not visible during a regular dental exam. Dentists and dental hygienists use this information to safely and accurately detect hidden dental abnormalities and complete an accurate treatment plan. Without x-rays, problem areas may go undetected.


Dental x-rays may reveal:


    • Abscesses or cysts.
    • Bone loss.
    • Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.
    • Decay between the teeth.
    • Developmental abnormalities.
    • Poor tooth and root positions.
    • Problems inside a tooth or below the gum line.


Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage can save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and your teeth!


Are dental x-rays safe?


We are all exposed to natural radiation in our environment. The amount of radiation exposure from a full mouth series of x-rays is equal to the amount a person receives in a single day from natural sources.


Dental x-rays produce a low level of radiation and are considered safe. Dentists take necessary precautions to limit the patient’s exposure to radiation when taking dental x-rays. These precautions include using lead apron shields to protect the body and using modern, fast film that cuts down the exposure time of each x-ray.


How often should dental x-rays be taken?


The need for dental x-rays depends on each patient’s individual dental health needs. Your dentist and dental hygienist will recommend necessary x-rays based on the review of your medical and dental history, dental exam, signs and symptoms, age consideration, and risk for disease.


A full mouth series of dental x-rays is recommended for new patients. A full series is usually good for three to five years. Bite-wing x-rays (x-rays of top and bottom teeth biting together) are taken at recall (check-up) visits and are recommended once or twice a year to detect new dental problems.

Panoramic X-rays

Panoramic X-rays (also known as Panorex® or orthopantomograms) are wraparound photographs of the face and teeth. They offer a view that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. X-rays in general, expose hidden structures, such as wisdom teeth, reveal preliminary signs of cavities, and also show fractures and bone loss.


Panoramic X-rays are extraoral and simple to perform. Usually, dental X-rays involve the film being placed inside the mouth, but panoramic film is hidden inside a mechanism that rotates around the outside of the head.


Unlike bitewing X-rays that need to be taken every few years, panoramic X-rays are generally only taken on an as-needed basis. A panoramic x-ray is not conducted to give a detailed view of each tooth, but rather to provide a better view of the sinus areas, nasal areas and mandibular nerve. Panoramic X-rays are preferable to bitewing X-rays when a patient is in extreme pain, and when a sinus problem is suspected to have caused dental problems.


Panoramic X-rays are extremely versatile in dentistry, and are used to:


    • Assess patients with an extreme gag reflex.
    • Evaluate the progression of TMJ.
    • Expose cysts and abnormalities.
    • Expose impacted teeth.
    • Expose jawbone fractures.
    • Plan treatment (full and partial dentures, braces and implants).
    • Reveal gum disease and cavities.


How are panoramic X-rays taken?


The panoramic X-ray provides the dentist with an ear-to-ear two-dimensional view of both the upper and lower jaw. The most common uses for panoramic X-rays are to reveal the positioning of wisdom teeth and to check whether dental implants will affect the mandibular nerve (the nerve extending toward the lower lip).


The Panorex equipment consists of a rotating arm that holds the X-ray generator, and a moving film attachment that holds the pictures. The head is positioned between these two devices. The X-ray generator moves around the head taking pictures as orthogonally as possible. The positioning of the head and body is what determines how sharp, clear and useful the X-rays will be to the dentist. The pictures are magnified by as much as 30% to ensure that even the minutest detail will be noted.


Panoramic X-rays are an important diagnostic tool and are also valuable for planning future treatment. They are safer than other types of X-ray because less radiation enters the body.


If you have questions or concerns about panoramic X-rays, please ask your dentist.

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