How Do X-Rays Work?

Every wondered what kind of special science is needed for doctors to take a look at your bones? X-Rays are critical in modern healthcare, whether we’re injured in an accident, or just checking for cavities at the dentist.

X-Rays love Calcium

That’s right. Your bones have calcium in them, which is an element. Remember the periodic table of elements? Well, here’s a quick reminder:


The elements are ordered by the number of protons they contain. We call this an “atomic number.” Sounds intense, huh? X-Rays pick up elements with high atomic numbers and just go right through the ones with lower atomic numbers. All of our skin and organs? They use a lot of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. See the little purple squares on the chart? They have low atomic numbers in their upper right corner. Calcium, on the other hand, is over on the left side in a light orange color. Its atomic number is 20, and that right there is what makes them visible on your X-Ray images.

Where Have I Heard of Calcium Before…

Calcium foods

Probably on foods (like milk) or supplements. Some foods even say “fortified with Calcium!” to let you know that they’re serving you an extra amount. Most of the time, you’ll see it marketed as making your bones stronger, not “your X-Rays depend on it”, but both are true! So prepare to be amazed, as always, the next time you get X-Rays done.

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