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August 2nd, 2012

Part of most dental examinations are “routine” x-rays.  While we refer to them as routine, they are truly a marvel for diagnosis of dental disease and are by no means just done for the sake of a routine.
In finding tooth decay, the most common “Bitewing” type of film shows both upper and lower back teeth and enables the earliest finding of decay between the teeth.  This early diagnosis allows for smaller fillings and avoids larger cavities and even nerve exposures that can lead to root canal treatment.
A full mouth series of x-rays will show the entire length of each tooth and the surrounding bone.  These views are very useful in the diagnosis of periodontal disease, tooth impaction, tooth abscesses and other infections.
Panoramic x-rays are single large films, taken in special machines that move around the head, and take a full view of the jaws and teeth.  They show jaw fractures, impacted third molars (wisdom teeth), and are useful when planning orthodontic treatment (braces) for children.  The films in this case are too far from the teeth to show the details of decay or periodontal disease, and so often a combination of films are taken.
Which x-rays are necessary is determined by your dentist on an individual basis.  Each person has different needs and each case is evaluated for those needs.  X-rays today are a very safe and often indispensable aid in proper dental diagnosis and treatment.
An interesting aside on x-ray safety today.  In the 1970’s, common exposure time was 1 second for a single film.  These were often measured with somewhat inaccurate mechanical timers.  Today, with our faster film and developing techniques, our electronic timers are very accurate and exposure time for a single film is 1/12th of a second.  That means that a full mouth series of 14 films exposes the patient to not much more radiation than a single film from 30 or 40 years ago.

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