If you feel like your dentist is asking you to do X-rays almost every time you go in for a cleaning, you’re probably right. That’s because getting regular dental X-rays is just as important for your oral health as getting regular teeth cleanings. But why?

Here’s some more information about what dental X-rays are, what they’re used for, and how frequently you should get them.

What Are Dental X-Rays?

Dental X-rays (also called radiographs) use low levels of radiation to capture images of the teeth, jaw, and surrounding tissues in your mouth. They reveal dental problems that can’t be seen during a normal dental exam. 

Dental X-rays can be intraoral with X-ray film put inside the mouth, or extraoral with X-ray film kept outside of the mouth. There are many types of X-rays that serve unique purposes. Some of the most common types of X-rays include:

  • Bitewing – This method requires you to bite down on special X-ray paper. It’s used to help your dentist see how well the crowns of your teeth match up, and to check for cavities between your teeth.
  • Occlusal – This method is done while your jaw is closed. It captures your entire tooth arch in one image and helps your dentist see how your upper and lower teeth line up.
  • Panoramic – This method is done via an X-ray machine that rotates around your head. It helps your dentist check for impacted wisdom teeth and jaw problems. 
  • Periapical – This method captures an image focused on just one or two full teeth, from root to crown. It helps your dentist detect any unusual changes in your root and surrounding bone structures. 

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

The levels of radiation used for dental X-rays are very low, which means dental X-rays are safe for adults and children. The only exception is pregnant women, who should avoid getting dental X-rays until they are no longer pregnant.

To add another level of protection, your dentist will place a lead bib over your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. This helps protect your vital organs from any radiation exposure. 

What Are Dental X-Rays Used For?

Dental X-rays are used to detect any problems that your dentist may not be able to find during a regular dental exam. Dentists also use them to figure out the best plan of action for any dental or orthodontic treatments. Here’s a list of the five most common uses of dental X-rays:

  • Detecting tooth decay – Some cavities are hidden in between teeth, which makes them difficult to spot during a regular exam. X-rays make them visible and show your dentist how deep they are, helping them determine whether a filling or root canal is needed.
  • Detecting wisdom teeth – Many wisdom teeth are impacted, and are therefore not seen during a regular exam. In fact, they’re usually spotted first on a dental X-ray. This gives you the opportunity to get them removed before you start feeling any symptoms or pain. 
  • Detecting bone loss – Gum disease, or gingivitis, can cause your jaw bone to deteriorate. If any bone loss is detected on a dental X-ray, it’s a red flag for your dentist to do further testing.
  • Detecting irregular masses – Whether they’re malignant or benign, oral tumors and cysts can cause discomfort and further complications. Dental X-rays help spot them early on so they can be taken care of promptly. 
  • Planning orthodontic treatments – Only a third of your tooth is actually visible, so dental X-rays are important before undergoing any orthodontic treatments. They help your dentist evaluate the position of the root, which determines which orthodontic plan would have the best outcome for your smile.

How Often Should I Get Dental X-Rays?

Most dentists agree that you should get dental X-rays once every 1-2 years. However, this number can change based on your individual dental needs. For example, your dentist may recommend getting X-rays every six months if they need to track the progression of a dental problem or treatment. Some other factors that influence the frequency of dental X-rays include:

  • Your age
  • Your current oral health
  • Your history of gum disease
  • Your history of cavities
  • Your dental insurance plan

If it’s time to schedule your dental X-rays, give Weber, Mountford, and Ruszkowski a call! We’re here to help patients maintain their healthy, happy smiles.