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A Patient’s Guide to Dental X-rays

Dental x-rays, which dentists call radiographs, pertain to the images of the teeth used to assess the health of teeth and associated structures.

It utilizes low levels of radiation that penetrate the tissues to form a radiographic image on an x-ray film.

It produces images of the interior or internal part of the teeth, as well the bone that supports it.

Dental x-rays are very important tools your dentist needs to come up with a correct diagnosis.

Why are dental x-rays taken?

Dental x-rays are taken to help dentist detect problems (i.e. deep and recurrent tooth decay, impacted teeth, etc.) that are not readily identified through visual examination.

They may also be performed on a regular basis to track or monitor response to treatment.

How often dental x-rays are needed depends on the patient’s age, history of oral diseases, risk for oral disease, and current oral health status.

Children may require dental x-rays more frequent than adults do because their teeth and jaw are still in the process of growth which dentists need to monitor on a regular basis.

This monitoring is necessary because it helps determine if there are baby teeth that have to be pulled out to allow the adult teeth to erupt into their proper alignment.

To determine if you need dental x-rays, your dentist will first review your medical and dental history and perform comprehensive oral examination.

If you are a new patient, x-rays are most likely needed to enable your dentist to assess your current oral health status and get a baseline upon which changes (that will occur later) can be compared to.

If you have any radiographs from your previous dentist and you switch to another dentist, the later may ask for these radiographs.

What procedures require dental x-rays?

Almost every dental procedure require x-rays first, but the ones where they are an absolute requirement include periodontal therapy, root canal treatment, orthodontic treatment, extraction (both simple and complicated), and implant placement.

Different conditions and procedures require different types of dental x-ray.

These types will be discussed in a separate article.

Are dental x-rays safe?

While dental x-rays requires exposure to radiation like your chest x-rays (and any other type of x-rays for that matter), the dose is so low and thus deemed safe even for children.

If digital x-rays are used, the dose is even lower and therefore much safer.

But even though radiation exposure is very low, it should still be limited as much as possible.

No one – dentist and patient alike – should receive more radiation than necessary.

This can be prevented by placing a lead apron over the chest, pelvic, and abdominal regions when taking x-rays.

A lead apron with collar is indicated for patients with thyroid problems, but it can be used in all patients whenever possible.

Although dental x-rays are generally safe, women who are pregnant or suspect they could be pregnant must x-rays, unless absolutely necessary.

It is dangerous for the developing baby to be exposed to any kind of radiation.

Be sure to tell your dentist if you think you may be pregnant.

If dental x-rays are part of the treatment plan, a collared lead apron should be enough to protect your developing baby from radiation exposure.