X-rays are a terrific source of information for your dentist, revealing areas of tooth decay or bone loss from gum disease that can’t be seen with the naked eye. The more information your dentist has, the better able he or she will be to correctly diagnose any problems you have and come up with the most effective treatment strategy.
Yet to make the most accurate assessment of your dental health, your dentist needs to examine not just an x-ray picture from today, but also your prior x-ray images. In fact, a dentist who looks at only a current x-ray might reach a very different conclusion than one who sees a series of x-rays over time. Let’s see how this works in practice.
Consider the case of a 45-year-old woman who has recently moved, and is having her first appointment with a new dentist. Because this patient is new to the practice, the dentist has recommended a full set of x-rays to establish a baseline of her dental and periodontal health. When he looks at these x-rays, he sees evidence of bone loss around some of her teeth. What does this mean?
Bone loss is a sign of periodontal (gum) disease. If you lose too much bone, your teeth can become loose or even fall out. Unfortunately, you won’t necessarily feel or see symptoms of this until you are already in trouble. (That’s one of many reasons why it’s important to get regular dental checkups!)
Will her new dentist send her immediately to see a periodontist (gum specialist) for treatment? Not necessarily—especially if this patient has transferred over her dental records and the dentist can see her past x-rays.
If our patient’s old x-rays show that she always had completely healthy teeth and gums, but recently experienced a period of rapid decline then, yes, she might well be referred to a periodontist. This specialist would not only treat her disease, but also figure out what’s causing it. Has she slacked off on her oral hygiene at home? Not seen a dentist for a while? Has she been under a great deal of stress or has she developed a systemic disease, such as diabetes?
On the other hand, perhaps the old x-rays will show that this bone loss occurred over a 10-year period from age 25-35, during which she was taking birth control pills and then had two children. The hormones of pregnancy and in birth control pills can affect the health of a woman’s gums. If the past x-rays show that she hasn’t lost any more bone over the last 10 years, then the dentist may well decide that her condition is stable, and the care of a specialist is not needed. In this case, he may simply advise her to keep to
a regular schedule of dental checkups and professional cleanings so no new gum disease develops.
Tooth decay is another example. An area of decay looks like a black spot on an x-ray image because the decayed area has lost minerals. A healthy area, which has more mineral content, will result in a lighter image. But here again, an accurate diagnosis of the current situation may depend on having x-rays from the past.
Let’s say you had a root canal treatment two years ago. Today, an x-ray image shows a dark area on that same tooth. Is it a new infection, or a healed scar from the original procedure? Comparing today’s x-ray to a past x-ray, your dentist will be able to tell more accurately—if that dark spot was there before and did not change. But if there is no past x-ray image available, it may be more difficult to determine what exactly is going on.
Like snapshots from the past, your old x-rays can be of great value today. That’s why it’s important to make sure they follow along with you to any dental office you visit! To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.