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The Importance of Orthodontic X-Rays

Orthodontic X-RaysMerely mentioning the word x-ray to my patients can bring up fear, unpleasantry, and an automatic association to cancer and birth defects. Our society is laden with cancer, and because the disease touches all of us in one way or another, we have been inundated with information about preventing various forms of cancer.Orthodontic X-rays are a form of radiation and radiation of any kind can pose a risk to our health, but it is important to realize that radiation has many important and beneficial uses.

X-rays in the practices of dentistry and orthodontics are used to routinely diagnose and treat a number of conditions that could otherwise not be diagnosed properly. At Aesthetic Orthodontics we take x-rays before and after treatment. As an orthodontist, I work not only with teeth, but with the entire dental-facial complex of teeth, bones, lips, joints, sinuses, cartilage, nerves, and muscles. X-rays help me determine if there are underlying structural or alignment issues with the jaw and teeth. They also help me determine in which direction teeth will likely grow or move, and to evaluate the relationship of teeth to other neighboring structures.

Patients usually understand the need for dental x-rays at the beginning of treatment, but some think that x-rays upon treatment completion are unnecessary. Their teeth are straight and they are happy with their smile, so why do they need to have more x-rays taken? The answer to that is simple. I need to make sure that the bones have developed properly, that the teeth and jaw bones are aligned properly, and that there is nothing further that needs to be done that I may not have been able to detect without the use of an x-ray. X-rays after treatment are also a veritable reference to have if a patient comes in with any issues in the future. I try to make clear to each patient the importance of before and after x-rays before treatment begins.

Understanding the importance of orthodontic x-rays plays a big role in accepting x-ray imaging as part of treatment. However, radiation still leaves patients a bit squeamish. So, just how much radiation are you exposed to? I tell my patients it’s like sitting in the sun for ten minutes on a hot day. Radiation is measured in rems, but a rem is a very large unit, so we measure in millirems as well. One thousand millirems equal one rem. At Aesthetic Orthodontics we use ultra-low dose digital imaging. Each x-ray exposes you to less than 0.5 millirems. To put that into perspective, you are exposed to 10 millirems per year cooking with natural gas and 1 millirem – a little more than 2 dental x-rays – for each short flight you take. (perhaps Los Angeles to Las Vegas.) A mammogram exposes each breast to 500 millirems, or the equivalent of 2,000 dental x-rays. I understand the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding unneccessary risks. At Aesthetic Orthodontics, we do everything we possibly can to ensure that you are getting the lowest dose of radiation to keep you happy and healthy, while still capturing the images and the data we need to make your treatment as successful as possible.

If you need more quantifiable information, listen to the informative podcast below on the risks of dental x-rays by Dr. Sean Carlson, associate professor at my alma mater, the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at the University of the Pacific. And as always, if you still have questions or concerns, feel free to contact any one of our offices, or email us at info@aeortho.com.