Dental X-rays help dentists visualize diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissue that cannot be seen with a simple oral exam. In addition, X-rays help the dentist find and treat dental problems early in their development, which can potentially save you money, unnecessary discomfort, and maybe even your life.
What Problems Can Dental X-Rays Detect?
In adults, dental X-rays can be used to:
Show areas of decay that may not be visible with an oral exam, especially small areas of decay between teeth
Identify decay occurring beneath an existing filling
Reveal bone loss that accompanies gum disease
Reveal changes in the bone or in the root canal resulting from infection
Assist in the preparation of tooth implants, braces, dentures, or other dental procedures
Reveal an abscess (an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth)
Reveal other developmental abnormalities, such as cysts and some types of tumors
How Often Should Teeth Be X-Rayed?
The frequency of getting X-rays of your teeth often depends on your medical and dental history and current condition. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months; others with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit their dentist regularly may get X-rays only every year or more. If you are a new patient, your dentist may take X-rays as part of the initial exam and to establish a baseline record from which to compare changes that may occur over time.
People who fall into the high risk category who may need X-rays taken more frequently include:
Children . Children generally need more X-rays than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing and because their teeth are smaller. As a result, decay can reach the inner part of the tooth, dentin, quicker and spread faster.
Adults with extensive restorative work, such as fillings to look for decay beneath existing fillings or in new locations.
People who drink a lot of sugary beverages to look for tooth decay (since the sugary environment creates a perfect situation for cavities to develop).
People with periodontal (gum) disease to monitor bone loss.
People who have dry mouth -- called xerostomia -- whether due tomedications (such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs,antihistamines, and others) or disease states (such as Sjögren's syndrome, damaged salivary glands, radiation treatment to head and neck). Dry mouth conditions can lead to the development of cavities.
Smokers to monitor bone loss resulting from periodontal disease(smokers are at increased risk of periodontal disease).
How Safe Are Dental X-Rays?
If you are concerned about radiation exposure due to X-rays, talk to your dentist about how often X-rays are needed and why they are being taken. While some people need X-rays taken more frequently, current guidelines require that X-rays be given only when needed for clinical diagnosis.