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How to detect tooth decay without x-rays

When doing a dental health check, dentists will use a mirror and probe as well as magnification loupes to check the mouth and teeth for any problems. Digital photography is also a great aid in recording any problems and then showing it to patients as pictures tell a story and images are easier to understand. Diagnostic screening x-rays (often called bitewings) are also recommended every 2-3 years but frequency depends on the patient's susceptibility to tooth decay.

I find that ocassionally some patients do not want x-rays taken because they are afraid of the x-ray radiation and the danger that it may pose to their health. We must justify the reasons for taking x-rays and keep the dose ALARP (as low as reasonably practical) since x-ray radiation is ionising radiation and can damage DNA. However, for diagnostic screening of tooth decay, bitewing x-rays are considered very safe and the benefits of taking them far outweigh any disadvantages. Indeed, bitewing x-rays are the only routine diagnostic screening x-rays that are used in medicine and they show us what is happening under fillings and in between teeth as well as showing the bone level height around teeth. Still, some patients remain unconvinced and we have to then tell them that although we have visually examined their teeth, undetected problems may lurk between their teeth and underneath fillings.

This video of our Diagnocam unit in action shows areas of decay in between the teeth without using any radiation.

To address this issue and help overcome the limitations of direct vision only, I recently invested in a new caries (tooth decay) detection device made by a leading dental company, Kavo. It is called the Diagnocam and and uses DIFOTI (Digital Imaging Fibre Optic Transillumination) to illuminate the tooth. This helps to show decay in between the teeth and around existing fillings as well as highlighting cracks in the teeth. I still think that bitewing x-rays are an extremely useful tool and that they have a very important role in helping us to diagnose tooth decay and to assess the bone levels around teeth but for those patients who will not accept x-rays, we do have a safe alternative that finally allows us to better see what is going on in between their teeth.

Please ask us about having your teeth scanned with our Diagnocam unit.

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