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Radiographs let dentists see beyond the teeth

Dental radiographs (X-rays) can provide important information about a patient's oral health. They help dentists examine the underlying bone, the roots of the teeth or unerupted teeth, as well as the contact areas where teeth touch one another.

In some cases, dental radiographs can uncover a condition at an early stage before a patient experiences any signs or symptoms that something is wrong. Dental radiographs may reveal, among other things:

  • small areas of decay in the teeth and below existing restorations;
  • diseases of the bone;
  • abscesses or cysts;
  • signs of periodontal (gum) disease;
  • developmental and other abnormalities;
  • some types of tumors;
  • evidence of trauma;
  • evidence of systemic illnesses

Dentists prescribe dental radiographs for a patient after evaluating the patient's needs, including a review of the patient's health history, assessment of the patient's clinical dental history, completion of a clinical examination, evaluation of the patient's susceptibility to dental diseases and examination of previous radiographs when available. Based on this information, the dentist can determine if new radiographs are needed.

If you are a new patient, your dentist may wish to see previous radiographs. He or she may recommend a complete-mouth series of radiographs to determine the status of the hidden areas of the mouth and to help analyze changes that may occur later.

Patients should tell their dentist if they think they might be pregnant. Some dental procedures, including the radiographs needed for diagnosis and treatment, may be postponed until the infant is born.

However, dental disease left untreated during pregnancy can lead to problems for the mother and fetus. Dental radiographs may be required for diagnosis and treatment. A leaded apron and thyroid collar are used when pregnant dental patients undergo radiography. They help protect the patient's thyroid and abdomen.

If a patient is concerned about the effect that any drug, dental treatment or radiograph might have on her pregnancy, she should discuss these concerns with her dentist and physician.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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