X-rays, also known as radiographs, are an essential part of any dental care treatment plan. They are diagnostic, but they can also be preventive, by helping a dentist diagnose potential oral care issues in a patient’s mouth before they become a major problem. Intraoral X-rays are the most common type of radiograph taken in dentistry. They give a high level of detail of the tooth, bone and supporting tissues of the mouth. Dentists want to provide the best possible dental care to their patients, but a visual examination doesn't tell them everything they need to know. Thanks to dental X-rays, dentists can accurately diagnose and treat dental problems early before they become more serious and if after examining your mouth and reviewing these images, your dentist finds no cavities or growth issues, you can rest assured he or she has seen the whole picture.
What are dental X-rays?
A full-mouth series of periapical X-rays (about 14 to 21 X-ray films) is most often done during a person's first visit to the dentist. Bitewing X-rays are used during checkups to look for tooth decay. Panoramic X-rays may be used occasionally. Dental X-rays are scheduled when you need them based on your age, risk for disease, and signs of disease. Dental X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. X-ray pictures can show cavities, hidden dental structures (such as wisdom teeth), and bone loss that cannot be seen during a visual examination. Dental X-rays may also be done as follow-up after dental treatments.
How often do I need to get a dental X-ray?
The frequency of getting X-rays of your teeth often depends on your medical and dental history and current condition. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months; others with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit their dentist regularly may get X-rays only every couple of years. If you are a new patient, your dentist may take X-rays as part of the initial exam and to establish a baseline record from which to compare changes that may occur over time. X-rays of molars only every two to three years to check for early cavities. More extensive X-rays may be needed every three to five years to check the health of roots and adjacent bone. Children may need X-rays as often as every year or two because their teeth are changing rapidly.
What can happen if I don’t receive regular dental X-rays?
Dental X-rays help dentists visualize diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissue that cannot be seen with a simple oral exam. Dental x-rays are the road map that the dentist uses to diagnose a variety of oral diseases. Without x-rays conditions such as cavities, gum disease, fractured teeth, root canal infections and even cancer may go undetected. Early detection of oral health problems usually means less invasive and less costly treatment.
How much radiation am I exposed to during a dental X-ray?
Many observational studies have found that exposure to dental X-rays is associated with the risk of development of meningioma. However, these findings are inconsistent. Dental x-rays are one of the lowest radiation dose studies performed. The amount of radiation received from dental radiography is so low that it is highly unlikely that it results in a measurable risk. Dose reconstructions using techniques commonly used during the last decades of the last century show that the exposure to the brain from 4 bitewings is approximately 0.07 mGy, and from a panoramic examination about 0.02 mGy. A full-mouth examination (typically consisting of 12 periapical and 4 bitewing exposures) results in a brain dose of approximately 0.24 mGy.