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Do I Really Need Dental X-rays?

Dental x-rays: necessary diagnostic or big fat profit center…who really knows?   

As a dental practice manager and husband of the owner-doctor, I can assure you that I know the answer to this often-asked (or at least often-thought) question. In our day-to-day life in the dental world, this is one area where we have traditionally received the most pushback:   

“Do I really need x-rays?”  

“I don’t want to do x-rays.” 

“I just did x-rays at the dentist before moving to southwest Florida.” 

In this post, I want to put these questions to bed once and for all!  (Hopefully! 😊) 

Do I Really Need X-rays? 

In short, yes, you do. A few years ago, Karina (one of our long-term team members) grabbed me to do some x-ray training with a new dental assistant. I was due for x-rays anyway and Karina needed a subject to train the new assistant on. At one point she asked if I was feeling any pain (she saw the abscess but cannot diagnose) and I told her no, I felt fine. She went to get Dr. Pugh, who came and saw that I had a giant periapical abscess—a giant infection at the tip of the root in one of my teeth. Usually patients feel pain, often intense pain, with abscesses. Abscesses can be dangerous, and some have been fatal, so they are no joking matter. We called Bonita Endo right around the corner from us and they did a root canal on me that day.

This is my x-ray showing the abscess that I didn’t know that I had.

A dentist can’t see everything with their eyes. X-rays show them things the naked eye can’t see, such as:  

  • Roots of the teeth. 
  • Resorption of the roots. 
  • The bones surrounding the teeth. 
  • Decay that may not be visible. Missing decay leads to more expensive treatment later, such as crowns, root canals, or extractions. 
  • Abscesses. Catching them in the early stages, before the infection becomes more severe, makes a big difference. 
  • Cancer. 

I Just Don’t Want to Do X-rays 

This is a tough one for us because we really do want to take your x-rays. Obviously, a dentist who is worth their salt will want to make sure they’re not missing anything in their exam. What you may not know is that when a dentist misses something because they didn’t take an x-ray, that can be considered negligent, and they can be sued. So when you are telling your dentist you don’t want to do x-rays, you are telling your dentist that you want to expose them to the risk of a medical malpractice suit. That may sound dramatic, but it’s the reality for dentists. Just be aware of this as you discuss x-rays with your dentist. 

I Just Did X-rays at Another Office 

This is by far the most common x-ray concern that we hear. I get it. I wouldn’t want to do dental x-rays right after I just had dental x-rays either. In this situation, we really try to work with patients by having them transfer their most recent x-rays to our office so that we can see if we can use them. If x-rays are over three months old, then we can’t accept them, but if they’re newer, we will try. 

It’s important to note that even in today’s world of digital x-rays, what is transferred to us is never as good as our own. But in this case, we do our best to accommodate the patient by using their transferred x-rays if possible. It’s also important to note that if we do shoot our own x-rays because the transferred x-rays aren’t usable, we don’t charge the patient for new x-rays. 

I Don’t Want All of That Radiation 

Perhaps the most important patient-facing technological advancement in dentistry has been the advent of digital x-rays. Digital x-rays use less radiation than the amount you are exposed to in daily life.  

When we expanded our office in 2016, a tech from the x-ray unit manufacturer came out to troubleshoot an issue we were having. I was surprised that he didn’t leave the room when shooting test x-rays even though he does this for a living. While I’m not saying I would do that, it does speak to the very low levels of radiation that today’s dental x-rays use. 

If you have a specific issue regarding radiation, talk to your doctor. We just want our patients to understand the amount of radiation from our dental x-rays is extremely low. 

“You Just Want to Do Dental X-rays to Make Money

I can’t speak for any dental practice but ours. What I can say with absolute certainty is that dental x-rays are not a moneymaker for us. Our focus is not on looking at every line item to determine profitability.  Our focus is on doing the right thing, and when we do this, we make enough money. 

So, Yes, You Really Should Get Dental X-rays 

Our goal is not to dogmatically say “You can never reject x-rays, ever!” We simply want to take an opportunity to explain some things about x-rays that many patients don’t know. Informed patients are in the best position to work with us to improve their dental health. 

Have a specific question for us? We would love to hear from you! Give the office a call anytime at 239-949-1805. We’re available to answer from 8-5 eastern time Monday-Friday, but you can always leave us a message.