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Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

March 24th, 2021

We’re all friends here, so if you sometimes feel a bit nervous before your dental appointment, no judging! Ask us about any worries you might have. We are happy to explain procedures, equipment, and sedation options so you know just how safe and comfortable your experience can be. And if X-rays are a concern, we can put your mind at ease here as well.

What Exactly Are X-rays?

Sometimes patients feel reluctant about the process of imaging because X-rays are a kind of radiation. But the fact is, radiation is all around us. We are exposed to radiation naturally from our soil and water, sun and air, as well as from modern inventions such as cell phones, Wi-Fi, and air travel.

Why is radiation so common? Because matter throughout the universe constantly gives off energy, and the energy that is emitted is termed radiation. This radiation takes two forms—as particles (which we don’t need to consider!) and as traveling rays. This second type is known as electromagnetic radiation, created by photons traveling in regular waves at the speed of light.

We are exposed to electromagnetic radiation every day, because, whether we can see them or not, these different wavelengths and frequencies create various forms of light. Radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, X-rays, and gamma rays are all part of the electromagnetic light spectrum.

Different types of radiation on this spectrum have different wavelengths and different frequencies, and produce different amounts of energy. Longer wavelengths mean lower frequencies and less energy. Because X-rays have shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies than, for example, radio waves and visible light, they have more energy.

How Do Dental X-rays Work?

An X-ray machine produces a very narrow beam of X-ray photons. This beam passes through the body and captures images of our teeth and jaws on special film or digital sensors inside the mouth (intraoral X-rays), or on film or sensors located outside the mouth (extraoral X-rays). These X-ray images are also known as radiographs.

Why are X-rays able to take pictures inside our bodies? Remember that higher energy we talked about earlier? This energy enables X-rays to pass through the softer, less dense parts of our bodies, which are seen as gray background in a radiograph. But some substances in our bodies absorb X-rays, such as the calcium found in our bones and teeth. This is why they show up as sharp white images in radiographs.  

There are different types of common dental X-rays which are used for a number of reasons:

  • Bitewing X-rays, which are used to check on the health of the back teeth.
  • Periapical X-rays, which allow us to look at one or two specific teeth from crown to root.
  • Occlusal X-rays, which show the entire arch of teeth in the upper or lower jaw.
  • Panoramic X-rays, which use a special machine to rotate around the head to create a complete two-dimensional picture of teeth and jaws.
  • Cone Beam Computed Tomography, an external device which uses digital images to create a three-dimensional picture of the teeth and jaws.

Why Do We Need X-rays?

If all of our dental conditions were visible on the surface, there would be no need for X-rays. But there are many conditions that can only be discovered with the use of imaging—infection, decay, a decrease in bone density, or injuries, for example, can show up as darker areas in the teeth or jaws. Among their many diagnostic uses, X-rays can help us find:

  • Cavities between teeth or under old fillings
  • Damage to the tooth’s pulp which might require root canal treatment
  • Injuries to teeth or roots after trauma
  • Abscesses, tumors, or other conditions that might be causing swelling or pain
  • Position and development of wisdom teeth
  • Ideal placement for implants
  • Health and density of the jaw and alveolar bone

X-rays can also serve an important preventative role, by discovering small problems before they become major ones.

How Do Dentists Make Sure Your X-rays Are As Safe As They Can Be?

First of all, the amount of radiation you are exposed to with a dental X-ray is very small. In fact, a set of bitewing X-rays exposes us to slightly less than the amount of radiation we are exposed to through our natural surroundings in just one day. Even so, Dr. James McCreary and our team are committed to making sure patients are exposed to as little radiation as possible.

Radiologists, the physicians who specialize in imaging procedures and diagnoses, recommend that all dentists and doctors follow the safety principal known as ALARA: “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” This means using the lowest X-ray exposure necessary to achieve precise diagnostic results for all dental and medical patients.

The guidelines recommended for X-rays and other imaging have been designed to make sure all patients have the safest experience possible whenever they visit the dentist or the doctor. We ensure that imaging is safe and effective in a number of ways:

  • We take X-rays only when they are necessary.
  • We provide protective gear, such as apron shields and thyroid collars, whenever needed.
  • We make use of modern X-ray equipment, for both traditional X-rays and digital X-rays, which exposes patients to a lower amount of radiation than ever before.
  • When treating children, we set exposure times based on each child’s size and age.

And now that we’ve talked about some things you might like to know,

Please Let Us Know If . . .

  • You’re a new patient, with previous X-rays taken during regular exams or for specific procedures. Ask to have your older X-rays sent to our office. With digital X-ray technology, this transfer can be accomplished with e-mail! Having your dental history available lets us notice any changes that have taken place.
  • You’re pregnant, or think you might be pregnant. Even though radiation exposure is very low with dental radiographs, unless there is a dental emergency, dentists and doctors recommend against X-rays for pregnant patients.

X-rays play an important part in helping us make sure your teeth stay their healthiest. If you have any concerns, contact our Pensacola, FL office. When it comes to making sure you’re comfortable with all of our procedures, including any X-rays that might be necessary, we’re happy to give you all the inside information!

Going Green for St. Patrick’s Day?

March 17th, 2021

Happily for all of us who like to celebrate with friends and family, there’s no need to be Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day. Every March 17th, many of us take the opportunity to display a bit of Gaelic spirit.

  • Green Clothing (it’s tradition!)
  • Green Hat (for a jaunty look)
  • Green Shamrock (always the perfect accessory)
  • Green Hair (for the adventurous among us)
  • Green Grins?

Here’s where we draw the line. Emerald Isle? Delightful! Emerald smile? Not so beguiling.

That traditional St. Patrick’s party fare—green-frosted sweet treats and green-colored pastries and green-foamed beers—is full of green-tinted food dyes, which can leave us with teeth in subtle shamrock shades. Luckily, most of us will have only a very temporary tinge to remind us of our dietary shenanigans, and there are simple ways to rid yourself of the green sheen:

  • Indulge sparingly in colorful cuisine, and drink water afterwards to rinse away green-dyed foods and beverages.
  • Use a straw for green drinks.
  • Brush your teeth. (Not only will you brush away the green, but you’ll brush away the sugars from sweet green desserts and the acids from sour green brews.)
  • Try a whitening toothpaste.

One special note: if you’ve just whitened your smile, best to eliminate strong food dyes from your diet for a few days. Teeth are more sensitive to staining after whitening, because the whitening process temporarily makes them more porous. Give yourself a few days, and your enamel will be back to (stain)fighting strength.

So, celebrate on the 17th and feel secure that on the 18th, your smile won’t be “wearing the green” any longer. But if you find that you’re not happy with the appearance of your smile anytime during the year, if you have more permanent staining caused by natural darkening over time, or workdays fueled by black coffee, or a diet filled with tomato sauce, dark berries, red wine, and other tasty (but discoloring) food, you’re still in luck.

Ask Dr. James McCreary about professional whitening procedures at our Pensacola, FL office for a brighter, more confident smile. And with a bright, confident smile, every day’s a reason to celebrate!

The Perks of Dairy

March 10th, 2021

We all remember hearing this: “Finish your milk, it’s good for your bones!” If you have kids of your own now, you may catch yourself repeating many of the things you were told growing up.

Though parents occasionally exaggerate to get their kids to do certain things (such as eat veggies or behave), they’re spot-on about milk. Consuming enough dairy every day is crucial for growing children, because this can set them up to have strong and healthy teeth for the rest of their lives.

To understand the effects of dairy on your child’s teeth, take a look at tooth structure. Think of it in terms of layers: the innermost layer is the living tissue, the second layer is dentine (a calcified tissue), and the final one is the enamel, aka the white part of the tooth. Keep in mind that 96 percent of your enamel is made up of minerals like calcium.

Now, milk and other dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, so when you consider the need to build strong enamel for the first line of defense, it’s easy to see the connection between dairy and good dental health. When your son or daughter consumes dairy products, the body sends the incoming calcium to growing bones, which includes teeth.

This makes children’s teeth and bones stronger all around. Growing youngsters who do not get enough dairy in their diet are at risk for improper tooth development, as well as other dental problems.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of eight should be receiving at least two and a half cups of dairy per day. Children older than eight require three full cups, which is the same amount recommended for male and female adults.

If you’re looking for easy ways to incorporate dairy into your children’s diet, try snacks like cottage cheese, a milk-based smoothie, yogurt, cheese sticks, non-fat milk, and fruit parfaits, to name a few. Once you get a feel for what they like most, furnishing the ideal amount of dairy to their diet should be no problem!

If you’re concerned about your child’s teeth or have questions about a healthy diet, don’t hesitate to contact our Pensacola, FL office and ask a member of our team.

Best Tips to Make Your Teeth Look Whiter

March 3rd, 2021

Your teeth were once naturally white and bright. Wouldn't it be great to keep them that way all of your life? Unfortunately, everyday living can dim our smiles. Food, coffee, some juices, and soft drinks can stain your teeth. Poor brushing and flossing can also leave tooth stains. Injuries to teeth or gums can cause some yellowing as well, and in some cases, medicines can discolor teeth.

So, you may need some extra help to maintain or restore your teeth's natural beauty. Here are some of the best ways to whiten your teeth:

1. Reduce additional staining by drinking with a straw or cutting back on coffee and soft drinks.

2. Brush and floss every day.

3. Try a whitening toothpaste or mouthwash.

4. Visit our office for teeth cleaning and an exam every six months.

We can also help you whiten your teeth with in-office professional teeth whitening at our Pensacola, FL office. These whitening products are much more effective than whiteners you can buy at the store and are completely safe. Since they're stronger, application by a member of our team is essential to achieve the best results.

Some teeth can resist bleaching. If that's the case, we can try several techniques:

  • Deep bleaching that applies whitening agents over several visits.
  • Veneers and bonds that cover existing stains with a whiter, brighter surface.
  • Laser whitening that uses light to clean stubborn stains off teeth.

Take Care!

You may come across “bleaching stations” in shopping malls or at fairs. Avoid using these as the so-called whitening techniques can irritate your teeth and gums, leaving them highly sensitive to pain. Note too, that the operators of these whitening stands will make customers apply the bleach themselves, to avoid charges of practicing without a license. That should serve as a red flag and a caution to seek trained professionals, like Dr. James McCreary, instead.