My Blog

Posts for: May, 2015

By Douglas Pennino, DDS
May 21, 2015
Category: Oral Health
Tags: x-rays  
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X-rays are an important diagnostic tool in dentistry because of their ability to penetrate and pass through body tissues. Because they penetrate at different speeds depending on tissue density (shorter and thus darker on exposed film for soft tissues, longer and lighter for hard tissues like bone or teeth), we’re able to detect decay which appear as dark areas on x-ray film.

Without x-rays, the early detection and diagnosis of dental problems would be quite difficult. But despite its obvious benefits, it’s still a form of released energy that exposes patients to a certain amount of radiation. Since the potential health risk from radiation depends on the amount released (the dosage) and for how long and often a person is exposed, we must determine if the dosage and frequency from dental x-rays is a cause for concern.

It’s a common misconception to view any radiation exposure as dangerous. The truth is, however, we’re all exposed daily to radiation from the natural environment — about 2 to 4.5 millisieverts (the dosage measurement for radiation exposure) a year, or about 10 microsieverts (one-thousandth of a millisievert) every day.

In comparison, radiation exposure from routine dental x-rays is a fraction of this if measured over time. A set of four bitewing images of the back teeth produces 4 microsieverts of radiation, less than half the average daily exposure. One of the most comprehensive x-ray sets, a full mouth series of 18-20 images using “D” speed film, results in an exposure of 85 microsieverts, equaling about a week of normal radiation exposure.

These thoroughly researched rates help demonstrate that regular dental x-rays are relatively safe. What’s more, x-ray technology has continued to advance since first used in the mid-20th Century. With innovations in film and digital processing, today’s equipment produces only 80% of the radiation exposure of earlier machines. In effect, we’ve increased our capabilities to more accurately detect and diagnose issues through x-rays, while lowering the amount of radiation exposure.

Of course, a person’s annual exposure rate may differ from others. If you have concerns for yourself or your family about x-ray radiation exposure, please feel free to discuss this with us. Our primary goal is to improve your oral health without undue risk to your health in general.

If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and safety, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “X-Ray Frequency and Safety.”


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As a successful author, interior design guru (with 127 makeovers in eight years on The Oprah Winfrey Show), and host of his own television program, The Nate Berkus Show, Nate Berkus understands the important role a beautiful smile plays in one's life and career. In a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine, Nate discussed his oral health history. Berkus credits his all natural smile — no cosmetic dentistry here — to the treatments he received as a child from his dentist. “I'm grateful for having been given fluoride treatments and sealants as a child.” He then added that, “healthy habits should start at a young age.”

Dental sealants are important because they help protect developing young teeth until the enamel has matured. Without dental sealants, the newly erupted immature enamel of teeth is more permeable, meaning that the acids produced by bacteria in the mouth can damage these teeth more easily. This makes the teeth less resistant and thus more susceptible to tooth decay.

Regardless of how much your children brush their teeth, the reality is that toothbrush bristles cannot reach down to clean out the crevices found in the deep grooves (“pits and fissures”) of teeth. And if not removed, the bacteria found in these grooves produce decay-causing acids as a byproduct of metabolizing sugar. However, when sealants are used in combination with fluoride, good hygiene and nutrition (including lower sugar consumption), the odds of having tooth decay is dramatically reduced.

We refer to dental sealants as “pit and fissure” sealants because they protect the grooves found in the top of back teeth and the back of front teeth. Sealants also may reduce the need for subsequent treatments as your child grows older — just as it did for Nate Berkus. For these reasons, sealants are definitely something that all parents and caregivers should consider for their young children.

To learn more about dental sealants, contact us today to schedule an appointment so that we can conduct a thorough examination, discuss any questions you have as well as what treatment options will be best for you or your child. Or to learn more about sealants now, you can continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children.” And to read the entire interview with Nate Berkus, please see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nate Berkus.”