Along with routine cleanings and dental checkups, you probably have dental X-rays done when you head to the dentist. However, you may not be aware of how important they are to your overall oral health. Dental professionals use X-rays to take a closer look at what’s going on under the gums and to diagnose any oral health problems you may have. Here’s a closer look at dental X-rays, the common types of X-rays performed, how often you’ll need them, and the importance of having them done regularly.
Dental X-Rays: What Are They?
Dental X-rays, often called radiographs, are pictures of your teeth, as well as the soft tissues and bones around your teeth. They help to find any problems with your jaw, mouth or teeth. These pictures help show dentists hidden structures — such as your wisdom teeth if they haven’t come in, bone loss, cavities and more. In some cases, they may even be done to check on your progress after certain types of dental treatments. Since these X-rays only use a small amount of radiation, you don’t have to worry about them being a danger to your health.
Several types of X-rays may be taken when you visit the dentist, including:
- Panoramic X-rays: These X-rays provide dentists with a panoramic or broad view of your jaw joints, jaws, sinuses, teeth and nasal area. Some of the problems they can show include:
- Abnormalities of the bone
- Impacted teeth
- Bitewing X-rays: With just a single view, your dentist can see the lower and upper back teeth. They can show the dentist:
- Presence of severe gum disease
- Dental infections
- How teeth line up
- Decay between teeth
- Bone loss
- Occlusal X-rays: These X-rays show the floor or roof of your mouth. They’re used to help find:
- Jaw fractures
- Presence of foreign objects
- Teeth that haven’t broken through your gums
- Cleft palate
- Teeth that haven’t broken through
- Extra teeth
- Periapical X-rays: The entire tooth from the root of the tooth to the crown can be seen in periapical X-rays, and they also show the bones that support your tooth. They’re used to help find problems like:
- Impacted teeth
- Bone changes
How Often Do You Need Dental X-Rays?
The frequency with which you need dental X-rays will vary depending on your current oral health, dental history and medical history. Some individuals may only need X-rays done every few years, while others may require X-rays every six months. Dentists often take X-rays when they see a new patient to help establish baseline records so changes in the future can be compared to the baseline X-rays. If you don’t have a high risk of decay and you have no current tooth decay, then X-rays will probably be taken every 24-36 months. However, if you have a high risk for decay or you’re already dealing with tooth decay, then you may need to have X-rays every 12-18 months.
Individuals who may be considered high risk and required to have dental X-rays more often include:
- Patients who have gum disease
- Children (since their teeth and bones are still developing)
- Patients who drink and eat a lot of sugar
- Patients who suffer from dry mouth
The Importance of Regular Dental X-Rays
Why is it so important to have regular dental X-rays? In some cases, they’re used before and after certain dental procedures. However, routine X-rays are done to help prevent and diagnose oral health problems. Not all oral problems can be detected in visual exams, so your dentist will want X-rays to make sure you don’t have any serious problems that require treatment. Regular dental X-rays can also save you money, aiding in the early detection of any problems so they can be treated quickly and effectively.
What to Expect
Dental X-rays are painless, and before they are taken, you’ll be covered with a lead apron to shield your body from the radiation. You’ll be asked to bite down on a piece of plastic or cardboard that holds the X-ray film. This may be done multiple times to get multiple pictures of your teeth. If your dentist uses digital X-rays, an electronic sensor will be used instead of the film. Digital X-rays offer the benefit of exposing you to less radiation than traditional X-rays. If you think you may be pregnant, make sure you notify your dentist.
Author bio: Dr. Robert Pieters is one of the leading Dentists at Schererville and Chesterton Family Dentistry, where it has been treating patients in northwest Indiana for over 20 years. He is also a member of the Chicago Dental Society and the Northwest Indiana Dental Association.