Why Do I Need X-Rays At The Dentist

Young woman patient standing in x-ray machine.

Dental X-rays are images of your teeth. Dentists use dental X-rays to assess your oral health; they’re useful for both preventive and diagnostic care. 

Detecting Dental Issues Early

In dentistry, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Oral health issues tend to snowball—an untreated cavity may lead to a root canal, and untreated root canal infections may lead to extractions. Dental X-rays allow dentists to see cavities that may be hidden between your teeth or under your gums. They can also be used to find abscesses, bone loss, and other dental problems.

By detecting oral health issues early, dental X-rays reduce your risk of developing serious oral health problems. This has obvious positive implications for a patient’s health, and while dental X-rays may seem expensive, they’re generally much more affordable than the costs of treating undiagnosed dental issues when they’ve worsened. 

How X-Rays Guide Dental Treatments

Dental X-rays guide treatments in a number of different ways. They’re used to:

  • Find and diagnose oral health problems that would otherwise be undetectable
  • Assist in preparing for implants, orthodontics, and other dental treatments
  • Assess the oral health of children, ensuring that there’s enough room in the mouth for permanent teeth, check on the development of wisdom teeth, and more

No two patients will have exactly the same oral health concerns. As such, dental X-rays are used with more or less frequency depending on the patient. Here are some examples of how often a dentist might recommend dental X-rays to different patients:

New PatientsRepeat patients with a high risk of tooth decay and oral health problemsRepeat patients with no tooth decay and a low risk of oral health problemsChildrenAdolescents
A full set of X-rays is usually recommendedA full set of X-rays every 12 to 18 months until the risk of oral health problems decreasesA full set of X-rays every 24-36 monthsEvery 12-24 months or more frequently if tooth decay or other problems are presentEvery 18-24 months or more frequently if oral health problems are present

By taking X-rays regularly, a dentist can continually plan a patient’s treatment, altering how frequently X-rays are taken as a patient’s oral health changes.

Dental X-rays are key for orthodontic treatments, too. They’re used to evaluate the position of all of your teeth, as well as the shape of your jawbone. With modern technologies, dentists and orthodontists can even model how the position of your teeth will shift after orthodontic treatments. 

What Are Dental X-Rays and How They Work

Dental X-rays use radiation in order to create images of your teeth. In most modern dental offices, dentists no longer use literal X-rays; instead, they use dental imaging technology. Dental imaging has a number of advantages over traditional dental X-rays:

  • They use much less radiation.
  • They can be viewed minutes after they’re taken—no need to wait for an external lab to process them.
  • Your dentist can manipulate the dental images by zooming in, rotating the image, and more.

Most dental clinics continue to call dental imaging dental X-rays; we’ll do the same for the rest of this article. Broadly speaking, there are two types of dental X-rays:

  • Intraoral X-rays are taken inside your mouth. These are the most common dental X-rays, giving your dentist a clear view of the areas between your teeth and under your gums. They help uncover tooth decay, bone loss, and other problems.
  • Extraoral X-rays, which are taken from outside your mouth. These X-rays help uncover impacted teeth and give your dentist a better look at your jawbone, sinuses and your jaw joint or TMJ.

Types of intraoral X-rays

Bite-wing X-rays: These X-rays focus on the upper and lower teeth of one section of your mouth. They’re typically used to detect cavities between teeth and under the gums.

Periapical X-rays: These are used to diagnose the health of an individual tooth; they give your dentist a complete image of the tooth from crown to root. This means they can be used to detect issues like root resorption.

Occlusal X-rays: These are full-mouth X-rays, useful for finding issues in the floor or roof of your mouth. They can help your dentist detect fractures, impacted teeth, and more. 

Types of extra oral X-rays

Panoramic X-rays: These show every tooth in your mouth, as well as your upper and lower jaws. They show the position of all of your teeth, as well as potentially serious oral health problems like tumours.

A variety of other extraoral X-rays, like tomography and cephalometric projections, may also be used. These are less common than panoramic X-rays, however, which are typically done regularly.  Cone beam CT scans are used on a semi regular basis if called for.  They can help in treatment planning difficult root canals or extractions or for planning implant treatment.

Ensuring Safety in Dental X-Rays

Though the level of radiation in modern dental imaging is less than in the dental X-rays of old, your dentist will still take a variety of steps to protect you from radiation. These include:

  • Using shielded aprons
  • Keeping the source of radiation as far from you as possible
  • Not prescribing unnecessary X-rays

Here at Fresh Dental, we take every precaution we can to ensure that your dental X-ray is safe and effective, minimizing your exposure to radiation while maximizing the effectiveness of our dental care.