Female dentist in blue scrubs showing x-rays to patient, smiling young man.

The Importance of Dental X-Rays or Radiographs

When you have a problem with your teeth, your dentist will first do a visual examination to give you the answers you’re seeking. But a visual examination doesn’t always give you all the necessary information. That’s where X-rays can be beneficial. They help dentists detect possible decay or diseases that just aren’t visible to the naked eye.

So Why Are Dental X-Rays Important?

X-rays, also known as radiographs, allow your dentist to see between and inside your teeth. Dental X-rays are important because they give your dentist the whole picture. They help dentists see the condition of your teeth and also the roots, jaw placement, and facial bone composition. They will help your dentist find and treat dental problems before they become too serious or advanced.

What Do Dental X-Rays show?

Dental X-rays can show:

  • Small areas of decay between teeth
  • Decay beneath fillings
  • Cysts and other types of tumors
  • Bone loss in the jaw due to periodontal disease
  • The position of teeth to determine what kind of tooth implant, braces, or dentures are required
  • Abscesses

Types of X-Rays

There are many types of dental X-rays, but bitewing, periapical, and panoramic radiographs are the most common ones. Bitewing X-rays are done to locate early signs of decay between back teeth or bicuspids (teeth in front of the molars). Periapical X-rays are useful for focusing on just one or two teeth. A panoramic X-ray is used to show the entire mouth in one image. It’s taken from outside of your mouth and can help identify issues like cysts, jaw disorders, or bone irregularities.

Other radiographs include occlusal X-rays, cephalometric X-rays, and cone-beam computed tomography.

How Often Are X-Rays Needed?

Everyone’s oral health varies. Some people who have recently been diagnosed with gum or dental disease might need X-rays every six months, while others who don’t have ongoing dental treatment may need to get an X-ray only once every couple of years. If you’re a new patient and haven’t gotten an X-ray done recently, your new dentist may recommend a panoramic X-ray to assess the state of your oral health.

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

While we’ve discussed the importance of dental radiographs, you might still have some concerns about their safety. According to Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association, dental X-rays are perfectly safe. While they do expose you to low radiation levels, the harmful effects associated with them are also low. That said, you can always ask for the added protection of a leaded apron to cover your abdomen or a leaded collar to protect your thyroid.

Additionally, prevention is always better than cure. Brushing twice a day and flossing regularly can prevent tooth decay and lessen the need for X-rays.

Getting a dental X-ray might not feel like much fun. But don’t forget, they’re an important tool to detect tooth decay and other dental problems as early as possible, saving you both money and pain and keeping the smile on your face wide and bright!

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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