What's The Deal With Dental X-Rays | Your Handy Guide

If you go to the dentist on a regular basis, as you should, chances are you've had dental x-rays.

Whether it's part of a regular checkup or to diagnose a problem, everyone who has been to the dentist has had x-rays at some point.

So, unless its to diagnose a problem, what exactly are dental x-rays for?

Why are they such an important preventative and diagnostic tool for your dentist?

Dental x-rays serve various purposes, and there are many types of dental x-rays used to fulfill those purposes.

But, how often is too often when it comes to dental x-rays?

Even though they are a valuable diagnostic tool with minimal radiation exposure, you still don't want to take more x-rays the necessary.

So, how do we know when to draw the line?

In the article below, we'll take a look at the various types of dental x-rays, and how to know when we've had too many x-rays. 

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Dental X-Rays are a very common practice

How Are Dental X-Rays Performed?

You might already be familiar with the procedure, but it's still worth going over again.

The x-ray will begin with you sitting upright in a chair.

The dental technician will then put the lead apron over your chest, and warp a thyroid collar around your neck.

Finally, the x-ray sensor or film is placed in your mouth, and the picture is taken.

Most people have little to no problems or discomfort during the x-ray.

If they do experience any problems or discomfort, it is likely due to the size or location of the sensor.

If you have a small mouth, it can make placing the sensor a little challenging.

However, x-rays should never be painful, just awkward or uncomfortable.

Also, it's a good idea to let the dental technician know ahead of time if you have a sensitive gag reflex.

If you let them know ahead of time, there are several things they can do to keep your gag reflex at bay while they take the x-ray.

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Types Of Dental X-Rays 

Bitewing X-Rays

Bitewings x-rays are typically taken every year or so as recommended by your dentist.

The bitewing x-rays will help detect dental cavities or decay, as well as checking the bone level that houses your teeth.

Periapical X-Rays

Periapical x-rays, or PA's, take a full picture of your tooth from the crown of your tooth to the tip of your root.

Periapical x-rays are usually taken if you're having symptoms with a specific tooth, or as a follow up to a dental procedure.

Your dentist will use the periapical x-ray to determine if your tooth has an abscess, an abnormality surrounding the bone structure, or deep decay.

Occlusal X-Rays

Occlusal X-rays are specialized and aren't used as routinely as other x-ray types.

However, they can still provide very valuable information to your dentist.

Your dentist will typically use them if they need a picture of the roof or floor of your mouth.

They are also used to check for things like extra teeth, impacted teeth, abnormalities, issues with your jaw, and any solid growths, such as tumors.

Panoramic X-Rays

Panoramic x-rays are taken every 3-5 years, or as recommended by your dentist.

They can also be taken by your orthodontist to prepare for braces, or by an oral surgeon to prep for surgery.

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Digital X-Ray Vs. Plain Film X-Ray

Digital x-rays are now starting to replace traditional plain film x-rays due to their ease of use, efficiency, and the reduced amount of radiation.

A digital x-ray is taken with a specialized sensor and sent directly to a computer where it can be viewed immediately.

If your dentist uses a plain film x-ray and it comes out too dark or too light, it has to be retaken.

A digital x-ray can be adjusted on the computer to allow for easier reading.

Your dentist will also be able to zoom in on specific areas of the x-ray and enlarge the image for more detail. 

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How Often Are Dental X-Rays Needed?

The amount of dental x-rays you need comes down to your overall dental health.

Our Cleveland Dentists are always recommended to perform a clinical examination and evaluate a person's oral and medical history before taking any x-rays.

After that, the dentist will decide if there is a need for an x-ray before taking any.

If your oral history includes extensive decay or periodontal problems, your dentist is likely to recommend more x-rays for you than someone with a clear oral history.

Children are also more likely to need more x-rays than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing.

One size does not fit all when it comes to dental x-rays, and the types of x-rays, as well as their frequency, should be determined on a case by case basis.

The American Dental Association recommends that an adult with decay present and an increased risk for cavities should have a bitewing x-ray every six to twelve months.

However, if you don't have any decay or increased risks you can go two to three years between x-rays.

But, don't think that means you can go two to three years between dental check-ups.

You should still see your dentist every year for routine exams, and to be sure the need for an x-ray doesn't arise.

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A dental exam should always be performed before an x-ray is given

Are There Any Risks?

You're exposed to radiation every time you get an x-ray.

Radiation has been linked to some forms of cancer, especially in children, so you never want to be exposed to it more than you have to be.

With today's technology, though, dental x-rays emit a very low level of radiation.

To put that into perspective, the amount of radiation from two bitewing x-rays is equal to the amount of background radiation you are naturally exposed to on a daily basis.

Even though the radiation is low, radiation accumulates in your body from various sources, and it never dissipates.

So, you should really never have an x-ray just for the sake of having an x-ray, and your dentist's equipment should emit the lowest levels of radiation as possible.

Your dentist should also use the lead apron and thyroid collar during every x-ray for added protection.

Let your dentist know if you're pregnant before an x-ray, even though the ADA says there's no reason to avoid a required x-ray as long as proper precautions are taken.

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Dental X-Rays Are A Necessary Precaution

So, if you were wondering if dental x-rays were actually necessary, the answer is yes.

Without dental x-rays, small problems that aren't visible to the naked eye can become bigger and more difficult to treat. 

An x-ray should always be preceded by a thorough dental exam, and should never be given without one.

Although dental x-rays are necessary, because of the radiation they emit, you don't want to have any more than you absolutely need.

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