Dental X-Rays

Written by Brian Krans | Published on June 12, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Are Dental X-Rays?

Dental X-rays are images of your teeth that your dentist uses to evaluate your oral health. These X-rays involve using low levels of radiation to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. This can help your dentist spot problems, such as cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth.

Why Dental X-Rays Are Performed

Dental X-rays are common procedures. They are typically performed yearly, or more frequently if your dentist is tracking the progression of a dental problem or treatment.

According to the American Dental Association, factors affecting how often you get dental X-rays include: (ADA)

  • your age
  • your current oral health
  • any symptoms of oral disease

If you’re a new patient, you will probably undergo dental X-rays so that your new dentist can get an accurate picture of your dental health.

Children will need to have dental X-rays more often than adults because their dentists will need to monitor the growth of their adult teeth. This is important because it can help a dentist determine if baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications, such as adult teeth growing in behind baby teeth.

Risks of Dental X-Rays

While dental X-rays do involve radiation, the levels are so low that they are 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 and abdomen to prevent any unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs.

However, 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.

How to Prepare for Dental X-rays

Dental X-rays require no special preparation. The only thing you will want to do is brush your teeth before your dentist appointment. That will create a nicer environment for those working in your mouth.

How Dental X-Rays Are Performed

You will sit in your dentist’s chair with a lead vest across your chest and lap. The X-ray machine will be positioned alongside your head to record images of your mouth.

There are several types of dental X-rays, which record slightly different views of your mouth. The types of dental X-rays include:

  • bitewing: This technique involves biting down on a special piece of paper so that your dentist can see how well the crowns of your teeth match up.
  • palatal: This technique captures all of your teeth in one shot.
  • panoramic: For this type of X-ray, the machine will rotate around your 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 crown.

A dental hygienist will guide you through each step of the X-ray process. He or she will step out of the room briefly while the images are being taken. You will be instructed to hold still while the pictures are recorded. Spacers, if they are used, will be moved and adjusted in your mouth to obtain the proper images.

After Dental X-Rays

When the images are ready—instantly in the case of digital X-rays—your dentist will review them and check for abnormalities. He or she will discuss the results with you.

If your dentist finds problems, such as cavities or tooth decay, he or she will discuss your treatment options. If your dentist finds no problems, keep up the good work.

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