If you see your family dentist regularly, you know that X-rays are part of the drill (no pun intended). But you don’t need them at every visit, and you may need them less often than you think. Your family dentist uses industry guidelines to help decide when and what kind of X-rays to use. She also considers your oral health history: some patients need them more often than others. Here’s a look at why X-rays remain vital to routine dental care and how often you should expect them.
Why Do I Need Dental X-rays?
X-rays can help your family dentist catch tooth decay and gum disease early. They also let us track tooth and jaw development in children and adolescents. X-rays are vital for the following oral health essentials:
- Checking for cavities between the teeth that are challenging to spot with a traditional exam.
- Looking for crowding and unusual spacing and deciding whether orthodontic care is needed.
- Detecting unerupted or impacted teeth below the gumline.
- Diagnosing bone loss in the jaw.
- Follow up on healing after oral surgery
- Zeroing in on cavities or gum disease discovered during an oral exam
- Catching oral infections.
- Checking for damage from injury or facial trauma.
What Types of Dental X-rays Should I Get?
Just like other medical X-rays, dental X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to create images of your teeth, jawbones, and oral tissue. There are two primary types of oral X-rays. Intraoral images (including the familiar “bitewing” X-rays) have the sensors inside your mouth. Extraoral images (including panoramic X-rays) have the sensors outside your mouth.
Bitewing X-rays are the most common dental X-rays and are standard for detecting tooth decay. They capture images of your upper and lower teeth in a specific part of your mouth.
Periapical X-rays look below the gumline and detect gum disease, bone loss, and other problems in the teeth, gums, and jawbone.
Occlusal X-rays help us examine the floor and roof of the mouth. We use them to examine tooth roots and diagnose fractured or impacted teeth. They’re also helpful in assessing developing teeth in children and teens.
Panoramic X-rays are extraoral images that give a complete picture of your mouth in one image. They use a machine that rotates all the way around your head and lets us look at all your teeth, jaws, nerves, and even your sinuses. You only need a panoramic X-ray every five years unless you have oral surgery or need orthodontic care.
How Often Do I Need Dental X-rays?
As family dentists, we usually start every visit with a traditional clinical exam–touching and looking at your teeth and gums. However, sometimes we require X-rays to get a complete picture. We evaluate each patient individually. However, as a rule, the more complicated your oral health history, the more frequently you’ll need X-rays. If you’re a new patient, we’ll take X-rays to get a baseline. The ADA and FDA have established guidelines for returning patients, but every family dentist uses her expertise to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. The general guidelines are as follows:
- Every 12-24 months in children and 24-36 months in adults with no history of cavities and low risk for tooth decay.
- Every 6-12 months in children and 6 to 18 months in adults for patients with a history of tooth decay.
We may recommend more frequent imaging for patients with oral health or orthodontic conditions.
Are Dental X-rays Safe for Adults and Kids?
Dental X-rays involve low levels of radiation and are considered safe. However, as with all radiation-based diagnostics, dental X-rays should only be taken when necessary for an accurate diagnosis. Your dentist also uses a lead apron to cover your upper body for safety.
Questions About X-rays? Ask Your Family Dentist
Confused about how often you and your children need dental X-rays? Starting a conversation with your family dentist is an excellent way to make good decisions. The experienced dentists at Greenhill Family Dental Care take professional recommendations and your oral health history into account when deciding whether X-rays are needed. We pride ourselves on getting to know each patient individually and considering your oral and overall health history. We’ll establish a baseline, review your oral health history, discuss any concerns you have, and develop an imaging schedule just for you.