X-rays are often a part of dental exams, and while there is no statutory direction as to how often a dentist must take X-rays, or perform a thorough exam, there is a general liability issue.
Dentists should take X-rays in a “reasonable” time span to justify that he or she didn’t disregard a patient’s oral health care.
While a patent’s desire for a certain level of autonomy in making such a decision as to delay or decline an exam is understandable. a clinical examination, which often includes x-rays, is necessary in order for a dentist to collect diagnostic information that is vital to assess and facilitate a patient’s oral health.
Dental examinations help to diagnose disease before it becomes hazardous to your health. In addition, regular examinations can save patients money by finding problems while they are small and before they become expensive to repair, or in some cases, impossible to repair.
Dental X-rays are also very important as they allow the dentist to detect problems that cannot be seen by the naked eye. These problems include: loss of bone supporting the teeth (periodontal disease), cysts (sacks of fluid that form on the roots of teeth), cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, and decay that occurs between the teeth.
By using an X-ray to make certain no pathology is present, the dentist can help save the patient time, expense, pain, money and possibly avoiding additional treatments in the future. In some cases, when dental x-rays show the location of cancerous growths, X-rays can be responsible for saving a life.
While dental patients have the right to refuse any treatment, including exams and x-rays, dentists must follow recommended guidelines and use his or her professional judgment in reviewing the patient’s unique situation to determine what is clinically best for the patient.
Dentists have an obligation to maintain and enhance a patient’s oral health within the standard of care, and from a liability standpoint a patient cannot consent to treatment that is outside that standard of care. Should a patient decline to have an exam and or X-rays, the dentist is also permitted to decline to provide a requested cleaning and may ask that the patient find another dentist.
The relationship of patient and dentist is a very special one, and should exist only so long as both parties are fully confident that a continuing relationship will contribute to the dental care that will provide satisfaction to both parties.
When either of the two parties has less than complete confidence in such a relationship, then it may become necessary to terminate that relationship.
Prevention is always better than treatment. By actively preventing disease and decay through regular home care, professional dental cleanings and regular, comprehensive exams, patient and dentist together will be able to maintain a healthy, beautiful smile.