Dental X-rays (radiographs) are images of
your teeth that your dentist uses to evaluate your oral health. These X-rays are used with low levels
of radiation to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. This can
help your dentist to identify problems, like cavities,
tooth decay, and impacted teeth. Dental X-rays may seem complex, but they’re actually very common tools that are just as important as
your teeth cleanings.
Why Dental X-Rays
Dental X-rays are typically performed yearly, or more often if your dentist is tracking the progress of a dental
problem or treatment.
Factors affecting how often you get dental X-rays may include:
current oral health
symptoms of oral disease
history of gum disease (gingivitis) or tooth decay
If you’re a new patient, you will probably
undergo dental X-rays so that your new dentist can get a clear picture of
your dental health. This is especially important if you don’t have any X-rays from your previous dentist.
Children may need to have dental X-rays more
often than adults because their dentists might need to monitor the growth of their adult
teeth. This is important because it can help the dentist
determine if baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications, such as adult teeth growing in behind baby teeth.
Risks of Dental
While dental X-rays do involve radiation, the exposed levels are
so low they’re considered safe for children and adults. If your dentist
uses digital X-rays instead of developing them on film, your risks from
radiation exposure are even lower. Your dentist will also place a lead “bib” over your
chest, abdomen, and pelvic region to prevent
any unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs. A thyroid collar may be used in the case of thyroid conditions.
Children and women of childbearing age may also wear them along with the lead bib.
Pregnancy is an
exception to the rule. Women who are
pregnant or believe they may be pregnant should avoid all types of X-rays. Tell
your dentist if you believe you are pregnant, because radiation is not
considered safe for developing fetuses.
for Dental X-Rays
Dental X-rays require no
special preparation. The only thing you’ll want to do
is brush your teeth before your dentist appointment. That will create a more hygienic environment
for those working inside your mouth. X-rays are always done before cleanings.
At the dentist’s office you’ll sit in a chair with a
lead vest across your chest and lap. The X-ray machine is positioned
alongside your head to record images of your mouth. Some dental
practices have a separate room for X-rays, while others perform them in the same room as
cleanings and other procedures.
Types of X-Rays
There are several types of dental X-rays, which
record slightly different views of your mouth. The most
common are intraoral X-rays, such as:
- Bitewing: This technique involves biting down on a special piece of
paper so your dentist can see how well the crowns of your teeth match up. This is commonly used to check for interdental cavities.
This X-ray is done when your jaw is closed to
see how your upper and bottom teeth line up, and can
also detect anatomical abnormalities with the floor of the mouth or the palate.
- Palatal: This technique captures all of your teeth in one shot.
- Panoramic: For this type of X-ray, the machine rotates around the head. Your dentist may use this
technique to check your wisdom teeth, plan for implanted dental devices, or
investigate jaw problems.
- Periapical: This technique focuses on two complete teeth from root to
X-rays may be used when your dentist suspects there might be problems
in areas outside of the gums and teeth, such as the jaw.
A dental hygienist will guide you through each
step of the X-ray process. They might even step outside of the room briefly
while the images are being taken. You’ll be instructed to hold still while the
pictures are recorded. Spacers, if they’re used, will be moved and adjusted in your
mouth to obtain the proper images.
When the images are
ready — instantly in the case of digital X-rays — your dentist
will review them and check for abnormalities. If a dental
hygienist is cleaning your teeth, the dentist may go over the results of the X-rays with you after your
cleaning is done. The exception is if the hygienist
discovers any significant problems during the X-rays.
If your dentist finds problems, such as
cavities or tooth decay, they’ll discuss
your treatment options. If your dentist finds no problems, keep up the good
Like brushing and flossing, regular dental X-rays are an integral
part of your overall oral health. Having a good checkup can be a relief, but
this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep getting X-rays. Depending on your
age, health, and insurance coverage, X-rays may be performed
every one to two years. Be sure to commit to your appointments and see your
dentist sooner if you experience any pain or other changes in your mouth.