A patient is standing and undergoing a cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scan.

Educating patients about oral health is one of my favorite parts about being a dentist. Using the most advanced technology, including digital X-rays, enables me to show patients exactly what is going on in their mouth, rather than just telling them.

I understand that some patients are hesitant to take X-rays; however, the benefits far outweigh any minimal associated risk.

Just as a microscope allows a scientist to observe things undetectable to the naked eye, X-rays provide insight about potential problems within teeth and below the surface of the gum. X-rays provide advanced warning about many health issues, which can avoid future pain, emergencies and costly procedures.

These issues include:

• Decay, especially small areas of decay between teeth and beneath existing fillings

• Jawbone loss

• Changes in the bone or root canal due to infection

• An abscess, an infection at the tooth root or between the gum and tooth

• Periodontal disease

• Oral cancer

The two most common types of digital X-rays used by your dental office are bitewings and panoramic, cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) images. Bitewings taken in the examination chair capture individual images of your back teeth and front teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends these be taken annually. A CBCT image is 3D, taken while standing, and captures your jaw, upper teeth, and lower teeth all in one image. The ADA recommends they be updated every three to five years.

According to the ADA, radiation exposure associated with dentistry represents a minor contribution to total exposure from all natural and human-made sources. For example, eating a banana measures 0.1 millisieverts (mSv), one digital X-ray is 4.0 mSv, a cross-country airplane flight is 40.0 mSv, and a chest or abdomen CT scan is 7000 mSv. The huge benefit to this minor exposure is that the images can be viewed instantly and stored electronically.

I recommend X-rays be taken during your comprehensive, new patient exam. This helps us create a baseline of your current oral health state and a treatment plan, if needed. If your X-rays were taken at your previous dental practice and are less than a year old, they are easily transferred and added to your record.

Even though X-rays are important, they are just one piece of a strong oral health routine for maintaining overall health. Remember to keep your at-home dental care in top form, and visit your dentist regularly for a professional cleaning and checkup.

Jordan Haire, DDS, is a dentist in practice with ROC Dental Group in Bluffton.