The Importance Of Dental X-Rays During An Examination

Many patients ask, "Why do I require regular X-rays?" That is a good question. The simple answer is to keep track of your oral health. 


Do you really need dental X-rays?

Radiographic examinations of the mouth and teeth play an extremely important role in the diagnosis as well as management of various dental conditions. By using radiographs your dentist is able to detect problems that may not be seen through visual examination alone and sometimes before symptoms become present.

Why X-rays?

X-rays, also known as radiographs, capture images of the parts of your mouth your dentist can’t see. That’s because hard tissues like bones and teeth absorb more radiation than softer gum and cheek tissues, creating a picture that clearly shows differences between these types of tissue. What does all that mean? Your dentist can use X-ray technology to uncover ‘ decay, gum disease, infection, tooth cracks, bone loss and other problems that aren’t visible to the eye.

Eighty percent of decay occurs between the teeth. If a visual exam is done alone you miss 80 percent of potential decay. An X-ray can also show what’s under a tooth crown, for example. Other X-rays are used to examine the tooth root, or the jaw and supporting structures.

Who should have them?

If you have previously seen another dentist, a fresh set of X-rays will give your new practitioner a complete picture of your teeth and gums. Your previous records and x-rays can be requested. A new set of X-rays will make future changes easier to spot because you’ll have the initial set for comparison. But you may not need X-rays every time you have a checkup, especially if you don’t tend to have many cavities.

Children, on the other hand, have different oral care needs: A child tends to have thinner tooth enamel than an adult. This is due to the fact that their jaws are still growing and their teeth are still developing. Due to this, a child may need more frequent X-rays than their parents, especially if they have a history of cavities. If you miss a series of X-rays on a child with a high decay rate, you’re going to end up with some serious problems.

Are there different types of X-rays?

Yes, There are various different types of x-rays. The first is a bitewing x-ray. A bitewing x-ray is used to detect or confirm decay in teeth as well as help to assess the presence of gum disease between teeth. 

A Periapical film otherwise known in dental terms as a PA. A PA x-ray shows the entire tooth, tooth roots, and the surrounding bone. These images are used to examine root tips of teeth, diagnose bone loss due to gum disease, diagnosing cysts and abscesses as well as detecting inflammation of bone due to infections within the root canals of teeth. 

An Orthopantomogram or as we refer to as an OPG is a panoramic or wide view  x-ray of the lower face, which displays all the teeth of the upper and lower jaw on a single film.  It demonstrates the number, position, and growth of all the teeth including those that have not yet surfaced or erupted. It is different from the small close up x-rays dentists take of individual teeth. An OPG may also reveal problems with the jawbone and the joint which connects the jawbone to the head called the Temporomandibular joint or TMJ. An OPG may be requested for the planning of orthodontic treatment, for assessment of wisdom teeth or for a general overview of the teeth and the bone which supports the teeth.

A Lat Ceph is a lateral or side view x-ray of the face, which demonstrates the bones and facial contours in profile on a single film. Lat Ceph x-rays are usually used in the diagnosis and treatment of orthodontic problems.

A Cone Beam CT is a relatively new technique, which is mainly used to assess the jaws and teeth. Its main advantage compared to OPGs and other dental x-rays is that it provides three-dimensional imaging (similar to conventional CT, but with a lower radiation dose).  Perth Radiological Clinic uses the Cone Beam CT system, which provides high definition, three dimensional imaging to complement our other dental imaging services including OPGs and conventional CT scanning. Cone Beam CT offers 3-D evaluation of dental anatomy and pathology: for example impacted teeth, pre-implant assessment, orthodontic assessment, and assessment for jaw and face surgery.


How often should you have dental X-rays?

Your dentist will make a recommendation based on your oral health. Some patients resist X-rays even when their dentist suggests them but this can lead to trouble. For instance, if a patient attends an examination for a dental problem, however, refuses x-rays during their visit and then returns 3 years later with a huge problem this issue could have been prevented if an x-ray had been taken.

Are they safe?

Experts will tell you: A dental X-ray is far from dangerous. The amount of radiation you’re exposed to in full mouth X-ray series is only about 1/23 of the radiation you’re already getting from natural sources each year. And with new digital X-ray technology that replaces the old film method, the radiation is reduced further.

In fact, not getting X-rays can be riskier. If your preschooler has a cavity, odds are high that there are several other unseen cavities between his or her teeth. However, an X-ray will be needed to diagnose or rule cavities out. 

If you are pregnant it is important you do inform your dentist. If you’re pregnant and have a dental infection, failure to diagnose and treat it could be more dangerous for your baby than the X-ray itself. 

Even though the level of radiation is low, precautions are taken to minimize your exposure. The X-ray machine focuses the radiation only on your mouth, and you can wear a lead apron and collar to protect other parts of your body. Your dentist and his or her staff have been thoroughly trained in taking X-rays, and the equipment itself is inspected regularly.

If your dentist recommends an X-ray of your mouth, please rest assured it is to safeguard your health, not threaten it.