Dental FAQs

What’s the deal with dental x-ray radiation? Are dental x-rays safe?


Yes, dental x-rays are safe. Some of our patients don’t want to have x-rays during routine checkups because they are concerned about radiation, while others want to avoid routine x-rays to save money. We’d like to set your mind at ease about both of these concerns and explain why periodic dental x-rays are a necessary part of your oral health plan and essential to avoiding unnecessary dental expenses in the future.

How often do I need dental x-rays?

Most people need cavity-checking x-rays once a year. For these x-rays, we take two to four individual x-rays of the patient's teeth. These small x-rays are called bitewings, and they're the ones you bite down on a plastic frame that holds x-ray film. For adults, we also take a full series of x-rays or a Panorex (the machine that makes a half-circle around your head when it's taking the x-ray) every 5 years. These radiographs show us all of the teeth and allow Dr. Welch to screen for gum disease, abscesses, and any tumors that can hide below what we can see on the bitewings.
are metal tooth fillings safe

What safety procedures do you follow for doing x-rays?

You can be assured that we do not perform unnecessary x-rays, and when we make x-ray images of your teeth, we ensure that all safety procedures are followed. We’ll cover your body with a lead bib and a thyroid shield, which block x-rays from penetrating any other part of your body. And, following the ADA and FDA’s recommended ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle, we only take the x-rays that are needed to ensure your optimal oral health.

How much radiation do x-rays expose me to?

Dental x-rays deliver the least radiation of any medical x-rays – 2-4 images of your back teeth deliver .005 millisieverts of radiation. In comparison, the average North American is exposed to 3.1 millisieverts annually from natural sources.

Today’s conventional x-ray machines use high-speed film, reducing your exposure to radiation. Some dentists – like Dr. Welch – use digital x-rays, which emit approximately 80% less radiation than conventional machines. Even our Panorex machine, which makes a panoramic picture of the bones in upper and lower jaws, is a digital machine.

If you are undergoing radiation therapy for cancer or other conditions, or if you’ve had multiple x-rays recently for any other reason, please let your doctor and dentist know so we can help you limit your necessary exposure.

Are dental x-rays safe for pregnant or nursing women?
Pregnant women should skip x-rays in most cases, although most experts say that standard diagnostic x-rays during pregnancy are safe. Repeated exposure to radiation during gestation can damage the developing child’s cells, which in turn may increase the likelihood of cancer occurring during childhood. While the risk is virtually non-existant that a developing fetus could receive damaging exposure to radiation when you get a typical dental x-ray, we prefer not to take the risk. That said, if you do have a serious dental emergency that requires x-rays while you are pregnant, we will take all possible precautions to shield your developing child from exposure to radiation.

Women who are trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding need not delay x-rays. If you know there’s a good chance that you are pregnant, please let us know so we can take proper precautions.

Why should I get dental x-rays?
Wouldn’t the dentist be able to tell if I had any serious problems just by looking at my teeth and gums?
Sure, we can spot a great many dental problems by observation and exploration of the mouth, teeth, and gums. However, x-rays are essential when we design and prepare implants, dentures, and braces, as well as perform some dental procedures. In addition, dental x-rays are a powerful diagnostic tool that show dentists many problems that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
  • bone loss like that which occurs with gum disease
  • small areas of tooth decay between teeth
  • decay underneath an existing filling
  • abscesses – infections at the root of teeth or between gums and teeth
  • dental cysts and tumors
Diagnosing these conditions and beginning treatment early in their development will save you pain, money, and future tooth and gum problems.

Don’t wait! It may be too late!
A Cautionary Dental X-ray Case Study
John* is great about coming in for his regular dental checkups every six months. At his checkups six months ago, he had refused dental x-rays that he was scheduled for – he didn’t think they were necessary because he wasn’t having any issues, and he was trying to save a little money. When John came for his checkup recently, right on time at six months, he had a tooth that was so badly decayed that we had difficulty saving enough of the tooth to fill it. What happened?

It had been a full 18 months since John’s last dental x-rays. When Dr. Welch went back to review all past x-rays, there was no sign of tooth decay on that last x-ray 18 months prior. During the past 18 months, John apparently suffered greatly from acid reflux, which – unbeknownst to him, and not visible to the naked eye – was also damaging the surface of some of his teeth. If we had been able to perform a dental x-ray on schedule six months ago, the damage to John’s tooth would certainly not have been so severe, and a routine filling would have sufficed. It’s possible that if we had known about John’s acid reflux and been allowed to take x-rays on schedule, we could have helped John prevent this tooth decay entirely.

X-Rays Reveal More, and Sooner
A Case Study about Why X-Rays Matter
Now an adult, Hannah* had been good about keeping regular preventive dental care appointments. However, as a typical teenager, she hadn't prioritized daily oral health. Everything appeared fine when she looked at her teeth at home, but she started having a lot of pain and sensitivity with her teeth and gums. At her most recent checkup, Dr. Welch and a hygienist performed the traditional dental checkup, when they spotted a few decayed areas on several teeth. Signs of tooth decay on a visual inspection alerted us that x-rays would be necessary to fully understand the extent of Hannah’s problem, and she was due for x-rays anyway.

When Dr. Welch reviewed the radiographs (another word for x-rays) of Hannah’s teeth, he was surprised to find that virtually every one of Hannah’s teeth had one or more large cavities. The visual exam had revealed a few decayed spots, but the x-rays revealed terrible damage throughout Hannah’s mouth. The prognosis went from “needing a few fillings” to “needing several fillings…and losing quite a few teeth.” On learning the extent of her problem, Hannah was shocked.

This story describes two important dental lessons: 1) x-rays are essential in diagnosing the extent and severity of many dental problems, and 2) good oral care at home is just as important – if not more so – than regular bi-annual checkups.

While Dr. Welch had to do a lot of repair work on Hannah's teeth, she has continued taking good care of her mouth and now has a healthy mouth with clean teeth and strong gums.

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Dental Payment Plans Greensboro

Because your smile is important to us, we offer CareCredit, a healthcare credit card specifically designed to pay for treatments and procedures not covered by insurance. We offer 6 month and 12 month dental payment plans. Click here to apply online.