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Ask the Dentist: How often do I need X-Rays?

As a society we are taught that radiation is scary and bad. That it can cause cancer. We have seen the three-eyed fish exposed to nuclear waste on the Simpsons and watched as an ordinary man was bit by a radioactive spider and turned into Spiderman. But, are you aware at how beneficial radiation can be? X-rays are a type of radiation that help to diagnose bone disease, bone loss, infections in the root of the tooth, abscesses, cysts, unseen decay between teeth and sometimes even tumors.

When an x-ray is taken of your tooth, the film is the small square that is placed on the tongue-side of the tooth. The camera is then aimed at the tooth that will be imaged and a picture is taken. The act of the “picture” is really a small amount of radiation that leaves the camera in the form of a gamma ray, it cannot pass through thick material such as a tooth. So, the image left on the film only shows dark areas where the rays passed through air or your skin to react on the film. The rays can pass through cavities or cracks in your teeth (because these areas are mostly air) and these will show up as small, dark, cloudy areas on the film as well. Your dentist has many years of schooling to determine how to read the radiograph and to look for areas of the tooth that appear darker or cloudy.

Dr. McCargar at Scottsdale Dental Arts says, “The need for x-rays is dependent on the patient’s particular situation. Patients with high risk factors for decay might require x-rays every 6 months during their cleaning and exam. High risk factors include dry mouth, recent decay, or gum disease. Patients with low risk factors for decay might require an x-ray every 12 to 24 months.” Often dental insurance does not cover x-rays more frequently than every 12 months.

This small amount of radiation that you receive during an x-ray is not dangerous or hazardous for your health. High speed films and lead apron shields allow dentists to take a complete oral series with exposure 800 times lower than a chest x-ray. Digital dental x-ray systems further reduce exposure by 50 percent.

Is your morning tea helping to fight cavities?


You probably get most of your cavity-preventing fluoride from toothpaste and tap water—unless you’re a fan of black tea. Previous estimates of the fluoride level in this popular breakfast brew have been miscalculated, according to recent research.

Past studies have used a measuring technique that determined black tea’s fluoride to be between one and five milligrams per liter. However, Dr. Gary Whitford, professor at the Medical College of Georgia’s School of Dentistry, used a new method of analysis that revealed black tea could contain as much as nine milligrams per liter.

The average American ingests approximately two or three milligrams of fluoride every day.

Although this is good news for the moderate tea drinker, it could spell danger for constant consumers of black tea. Excessive fluoride can lead to skeletal fluorosis, a painful bone disease. However, sufferers whose diagnoses have been linked to black tea are believed to have drunk over a gallon of it every day for more than a decade.

If you decide to up your black tea intake to help protect your teeth, you may also want to consider incorporating a whitening toothpaste or treatment into your dental hygiene routine, as it’s one of the biggest staining culprits.

American Idol contestant is smiling a little bigger

Crystal Bowersox, the American Idol contestant, has a lot to smile about. She is currently on tour with other American Idol contestants and she just had a smile makeover.

Bowersox had previously turned down a public offer for a smile makeover earlier in the year. “I had turned down an offer that I thought was very rude,” Bowersox, 24, says. “There was a dentist that made a public offer — he didn’t contact me personally, and so I turned him down publicly. It’s not that I didn’t want to do it. I’ve always wanted to do it… I had braces when I was young and I couldn’t afford to finish treatment.” She said in a “Good Morning America” interview.

The singer says that it has helped her confidence. “I’m smiling with pure confidence for the first time in my life,” she said. “And it’s a good thing.”

As a cosmetic dentist in Scottsdale, Arizona Dr. Jason McCargar has seen what a smile makeover can do to help one’s self-esteem. “Having undergone an extensive smile makeover myself, I understand the feeling of satisfaction that is gained with the end product.”