Most of us had dental x-rays taken during one of our visits to the dentist.  There are many reasons they are needed and of great value to the dentist.  Here are some facts that will help you to learn more about dental x-rays.

First let’s learn about what dental x-rays are…

Dental x-rays, or radiographs, are two-dimensional images that show the tooth anatomy and bone in your mouth. There are two main types of dental radiographs:  intraoral (Inside the mouth and extraoral (outside the mouth). This refers to the placement of the film or sensor, whether it’s inside the mouth or outside the mouth. The most common intraoral x-rays are Periapical and Bitewings. They show the fine details of the teeth and the bone structure around them. The most common extraoral x-ray is called Panoramic and it is an image of the entire oral cavity including the teeth, jawbones, and sinus areas.

What are Digital X-rays?

With the advancement in technology digital x-rays are becoming more common. Digital radiography uses an X-ray sensor instead of film to produce the image.  The image is displayed onto a screen and does not need to be developed like a film. Digital X-rays require less radiation exposure (approximately 50-80% less than film).  They are faster since they can show the image almost instantly.  The image can be enhanced and transferred easily if needed as well.

What do dental X-rays show?

Dental x-rays show the tooth anatomy and supporting bone structure. Some of the things they evaluate include the following:

  • existence and extent of potential decay, especially in-between the teeth or under existing restorations
  • condition of present dental work
  • check tooth and jaw development
  • assess root health (presence of infection)
  • check bone health
  • impacted teeth
  • joint health
  • fractures
  • presence of cysts and tumours

Basically, with the help of x-rays the dentist will be able to look at the things they can’t see with a visual examination.  Without dental x-rays the dentist cannot make an accurate diagnosis and complete treatment plan.

How often should dental X-rays be taken?

There is no easy answer to this question as it depends on many different factors.  Some of these include the present state of your oral health and your general health history, your age, presenting complaints, and risk factors for various conditions.  Radiographs should be taken on a case-by-case basis.  People who are more at risk of dental problems and may require dental x-rays more often include:

  • Adults with a lot of present dental work
  • Smokers
  • People who have gum disease
  • People with dry mouth
  • Children

 Are dental x-rays safe?

Dental X-rays are considered very safe. Over the years many advancements have been made to reduce the number of radiation patients receives.  Digital dental x-rays have a very low dose of radiation.  According to the American Dental Association (ADA) 4 digital bitewings result in 0.005 mSv of radiation exposure. To put this into perspective, a person is exposed to approximately 0.01 mSv during a 2.5-hour airplane flight.  To further reduce your exposure, a lead apron is used while the x-rays are taken to block scatter radiation.

Can I refuse x-rays?

You have the right to decline x-rays. However, having said that this may put your oral health and even your general health at risk.  Problems that maybe not visible clinically may be present and they can go undiagnosed. These problems can get worse over time and become more difficult to treat and, in some cases, may lead to tooth loss and even threaten your life. In some cases the dentist can refuse to treat you without necessary images due to safety and liability concerns.

Dental x-rays are a very important diagnostic tool for dentists and allow them to make a comprehensive treatment plan.  At Guelph Royal Dental Centre we strive to provide you with the best treatment possible and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

DISCLAIMER: The advice offered is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. It is no way to offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendations for your particular situation.  Any advice provided is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified dentist.