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Dental X-rays: The Inside Story

November 9th, 2022

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. Bill Whitley 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 Dallas 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!

Getting Ready for Winter

November 2nd, 2022

Winter Is Coming.

Okay, that sounded a lot more dramatic in a popular fantasy series. But here in the real world, winter is coming as well, so let’s look at some easy steps you can take to keep your teeth and gums healthy during this icy season.

Remember to Hydrate

Dehydration is dangerous for your health in general, and it’s also bad for your dental health. A dry mouth is more vulnerable to gum disease and tooth decay because there’s less saliva to help maintain a healthy oral environment. Saliva helps wash away food particles and bacteria, works to neutralize the cavity-causing acids they produce, and strengthens tooth enamel with its mineral content.

Summer means heat and perspiration—two obvious causes of dehydration. Winter, though, has its own more subtle ways to dry you out.

  • Just as you lose moisture through summer perspiration, you lose moisture with a winter workout as well. That foggy cloud you see when you exhale outdoors? That’s water vapor leaving your body.
  • Cold weather means it’s time to kick up the heating system a few degrees. But unlike heated summer outdoor air, heated winter indoor air is not as humid, so it’s more drying.
  • Some of us just aren’t as thirsty during winter months, and so we don’t hydrate as regularly as we do in the summer. And while summer menus tend to offer foods like salad, fruits, and iced drinks which automatically provide us with a lot of water content, winter menus? Not so much. Keep up with your daily recommended amount of water throughout the year for a healthier body and healthier teeth and gums.

Wear Your Mouthguard

Whether it’s skiing, hockey, snowboarding, or skating, those winter sports can be hard on your teeth. That’s why it’s important to wear your mouthguard when you’re getting the most out of the snow and ice. Mouthguards help prevent injuries to your teeth and provide protection for your jaw and mouth, too.

And a sport doesn’t have to involve snow and ice to be a winter hazard for your teeth. The combination of hard courts, flying elbows, and body contact make basketball a leader in the dental injuries competition. In fact, any sport which involves potential falls or personal contact is a good candidate for a mouthguard.

Mouthguards are available in several forms:

  • One-size-fits-all, pre-formed mouthguards can be found in drugstores and sporting goods stores.
  • “Boil-and-bite” models are warmed in hot water and then shaped when you bite down. The fit is somewhat more comfortable than a stock guard.
  • Custom-made guards from your dentist are precisely molded to your teeth and mouth, letting you speak and breathe more comfortably.

If you haven’t gotten a mouthguard yet, or your old high school guard was retired years ago, talk to Dr. Bill Whitley about a custom guard.  While the over-the-counter options are better than going unprotected, a custom mouthguard fits your teeth perfectly—and comfortably!

Get to the Bottom of Winter Sensitivity

That first breath of frosty air might be more alarming than invigorating when tooth pain and sensitivity makes being out in the cold an unpleasant experience. Sensitivity to cold air or warm winter drinks can be an important symptom, caused by a number of dental conditions such as:

  • Cracked teeth
  • Cavities
  • Exposed dentin (the layer of the tooth underneath your enamel)
  • Receding gums
  • Over-vigorous brushing

If the cold weather is keeping you indoors because of oral sensitivity, give us a call.

Even though this can be a very busy time of year, if you’re due for a checkup and cleaning at our Dallas office, or if you have any concerns about your teeth and gums, make time for your dental health. We want to make sure you’re ready to enjoy every frosty moment of the season!

Four Great Additions to Your Dental-Healthy Diet

October 26th, 2022

Calcium from dairy products for strong bones and teeth? Check. Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables for gum health? Check. Protein from lean meats, eggs, and fish to create, maintain, and repair tooth and gum tissue? Check, check, and check.

These nutrients are probably the most well-known players in the production of a dental healthy diet, but there are several other important minerals and vitamins we need to balance the cast. Dr. Bill Whitley and our team take a look at some of these lesser-known but equally vital actors.

  • Phosphorus

Calcium is the mineral we hear about most often for maintaining strong teeth and bones, but it doesn’t act alone. Phosphorus is necessary for our bodies to make full use of calcium. Phosphorus is absorbed best from animal foods like meat, fish, and poultry, but it can also be found in beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products.

  • Magnesium

Magnesium also works with calcium, and promotes bone density and the strength of our hard enamel. If you are looking to add magnesium to your diet, you have a spectacular variety of options, including salmon, tuna, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, nuts, avocados, seeds, brown rice—even dark chocolate!

  • Vitamin A

This vitamin is essential for the health and healing of our mucous membranes, which include our gums and the soft membranes in our mouths. Vitamin A is found in animal products such as dairy foods, meat, and liver, or formed from beta-carotenes, found in plant foods such as carrots, peppers, pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes.

  • Vitamin D

Even though we might make sure to get plenty of calcium to keep our teeth and bones healthy, we will never get the most out of a calcium-rich diet without vitamin D. Vitamin D not only helps with bone density, it actually helps our bodies absorb calcium so we can put it to work for us. It has also been shown to promote gum health by reducing the inflammation that can lead to gum disease. Sunlight exposure leads our bodies to produce vitamin D naturally, but it is available in foods as well. Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and herring, are a rich source of the vitamin, as are cod liver oil and egg yolks. The only plant that produces vitamin D is the mushroom, but it is also available in foods fortified with vitamin D, such as cow’s milk, soy milk, orange juice, and even many cereals.

You want your diet to be part of your healthy lifestyle, and more and more we are coming to discover just how important a balanced diet is to our dental health as well. The fascinating fact is that all of the nutrients which support our dental health work together and depend on each other to play their roles effectively. Talk to Dr. Bill Whitley at your next checkup at our Dallas office for some suggestions on finding the dietary balance that works best for you.

What is a crown?

October 19th, 2022

Dr. Bill Whitley and our team at Whitley Family Dental hear this question all the time. Millions of people have dental crowns that artificially restore the chewing surface of a tooth. Also known as caps, these restorations surround the entire portion of the tooth that is above the gum line. Crowns are custom fabricated to match the color, shape, and size of other teeth and are visually undetectable to others. Several types of materials can be used to create crowns, including stainless steel, resin, metal alloys, porcelain fused to metal, or ceramic. When properly cared for and accurately fit, crowns can stay in place for a decade or more.

There are many reasons to get a dental crown, including:

  • To restore a broken or cracked tooth
  • To protect a tooth after a root canal
  • To restore a severely decayed tooth
  • To help anchor a dental bridge
  • To complete a dental implant
  • To protect a tooth that is at high risk for developing decay
  • For cosmetic purposes

Getting a dental crown

The process of getting a dental crown begins at our Dallas office. X-rays are used to ensure the teeth are healthy enough to receive a crown. If the roots and surrounding bone are in satisfactory condition, the tooth will be numbed, filed, and reshaped in preparation for the crown. If the tooth root is not healthy, a root canal may be necessary first.

After the tooth is prepared, a special paste is placed over the upper and lower teeth to make impressions. These impressions serve as blueprints for the dental laboratory responsible for making the crown. They also help ensure the position of the new crown will not negatively affect a patient’s bite. The prepared tooth is protected by a temporary crown while the permanent one is made. When ready, the permanent crown replaces the temporary crown and is cemented in place.

To learn more about crowns, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bill Whitley, please give us a call at our convenient Dallas office!