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When to Get Dental X-Rays

Dental X-rays help dentists visualize diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissue that cannot be seen with a simple oral exam. In addition, X-rays help the dentist find and treat dental problems early in their development, which can potentially save you money, unnecessary discomfort, and maybe even your life.

What Problems Can Dental X-Rays Detect?

In adults, dental X-rays can be used to:

  • Show areas of decay that may not be visible with an oral exam, especially small areas of decay between teeth

  • Identify decay occurring beneath an existing filling

  • Reveal bone loss that accompanies gum disease

  • Reveal changes in the bone or in the root canal resulting from infection

  • Assist in the preparation of tooth implants, braces, dentures, or other dental procedures

  • Reveal an abscess (an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth)

  • Reveal other developmental abnormalities, such as cysts and some types of tumors

How Often Should Teeth Be X-Rayed?

The frequency of getting X-rays of your teeth often depends on your medical and dental history and current condition. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months; others with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit their dentist regularly may get X-rays only every year or more. If you are a new patient, your dentist may take X-rays as part of the initial exam and to establish a baseline record from which to compare changes that may occur over time.

People who fall into the high risk category who may need X-rays taken more frequently include:

  • Children . Children generally need more X-rays than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing and because their teeth are smaller. As a result, decay can reach the inner part of the tooth, dentin, quicker and spread faster.

  • Adults with extensive restorative work, such as fillings to look for decay beneath existing fillings or in new locations.

  • People who drink a lot of sugary beverages to look for tooth decay (since the sugary environment creates a perfect situation for cavities to develop).

  • People with periodontal (gum) disease to monitor bone loss.

  • People who have dry mouth -- called xerostomia -- whether due tomedications (such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs,antihistamines, and others) or disease states (such as Sjögren's syndrome, damaged salivary glands, radiation treatment to head and neck). Dry mouth conditions can lead to the development of cavities.

  • Smokers to monitor bone loss resulting from periodontal disease(smokers are at increased risk of periodontal disease).

How Safe Are Dental X-Rays?

If you are concerned about radiation exposure due to X-rays, talk to your dentist about how often X-rays are needed and why they are being taken. While some people need X-rays taken more frequently, current guidelines require that X-rays be given only when needed for clinical diagnosis.



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