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Why Do I Need Dental X-Rays?

Dental X-Rays are a routine part of normal dental care for all age groups—and for good reason. X-rays are the one reliable way to eliminate the risk of tooth decay and other oral health issues going unnoticed. Dental problems often develop between or inside of teeth, making them undetectable during a visual exam by a dentist. Problems that go undetected for too long inevitably develop into much more painful and serious dental problems that can be easily prevented with X-rays.

While staying up to date on dental visits (including having X-rays taken) is important preventative care, you might still have concerns and questions about the importance, safety, and cost of X-rays. If so, you are in the right place to read on as we dig deeper into these questions.

What’s Included?

A full set of dental X-rays includes 14-20 images taken of the teeth, gums, and jaw. The process takes about 5 minutes without any pain or discomfort. This full set is generally taken during a patient’s first visit with their new dentist to establish baseline oral health. These images allow the dentist to see specific areas of the mouth as well as the mouth and bite alignment as a whole. X-rays are not usually required at each dentist visit.

Depending on the oral health of each patient, some dental X-rays may need to be taken every 6 months or not again for a couple years. Children typically require X-rays more frequently than adults due to their still-developing mouths, and presentation of new issues can come about more frequently.

These are three common types of X-ray images taken:

  • Bitewing: The Bitewing X-rays involve biting down on a sensor unit that is placed in different parts of the mouth for each image. Images are captured of each specific area, allowing the dentist to see individual teeth and more detail of the gumline. Bitewing X-rays are often for the purpose of identifying decay in and between teeth or at the gums.
  • Panoramic: A Panoramic X-ray will capture the entire mouth in one image. The patient bites down on a “bite blocker” for the image to be taken. The resulting image includes all of the teeth, the jaw bones, and tissues and structures surrounding the area. Although the mouth is a curved structure, the panoramic X-ray produces a flat image, providing a full visual indicator of oral health.
  • Occlusal: Occlusal X-rays are generally used by pediatric dentists to determine the development of the entire arch of teeth and to help assess bite alignment in children. These X-rays are taken in a way similar to Bitewing X-rays.

Why Are X-Rays Needed?

X-rays serve to assist dentists in diagnosing issues that often arise inside and between the teeth. Without the use of X-rays, these issues would go unseen and develop into more painful, serious, and costly issues to be dealt with in the future.

These are some of the oral health problems X-rays are able to show:

In Adults

  • Decay between and inside teeth
  • Decay beneath fillings
  • Bone loss in jaw
  • Damage or inflammation due to infection
  • Position and Condition of teeth in preparation for various procedures (crowns, braces, etc.)
  • Abscesses
  • Cysts and certain kinds of tumors

In Children

  • Development of decay
  • Adequacy of space to fit incoming teeth
  • Development of wisdom teeth
  • If impaction is present (teeth unable to emerge through gums)

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

Dental X-rays have technologically evolved in recent years and are generally regarded as safe. Most dentists have moved away from film X-rays to digital imaging. Film X-rays would emit higher levels of radiation. Digital X-rays do still emit low levels of radiation, but these levels are up to 90% less than film. Patients having more frequent X-rays are exposed to more radiation, increasing the potential risk of harmful effects. Given the extremely high value of X-rays for oral health, the benefits are considered to greatly outweigh the potential risks.

Patients typically wear a heavy leaded apron over their body to further limit the exposure to the already low level of radiation that is emitted. It is helpful to remember that the level of radiation exposure caused by dental X-rays is many times lower than the normal radiation we are exposed to every year through many sources we do not often think about including soil, water, air travel, cell phones, using natural gas to cook with, etc.

Safety For Children

It is safe for children to have X-rays taken. The amount of radiation they are exposed to by the X-ray is considerably less than exposure from their usual background environment. They also have the protection of the leaded blanket and a leaded collar to block exposure for most of their body. Having X-rays taken is highly beneficial for children’s overall oral health, greatly outweighing the risks of harmful effects.

X-Rays During Pregnancy

Be sure to let your dentist know if you are pregnant. Many pregnant women will postpone dental X-rays during the first trimester while important development is taking place inside the womb. However, the leaded apron covers the abdomen, protecting mom and baby from radiation exposure.

Pregnancy is an important time to stay up to date on dental care. While the child in the womb is siphoning many nutrients from mom’s body including Calcium, many mothers experience that their teeth become more vulnerable and need the attention of a dentist as much as ever. Overall, pregnancy is not a time to avoid seeing the dentist.

Costs and Coverage For X Rays

A full set of X-rays can cost between $85-$250. However, a full set is not required each time dental X-rays are needed. Most dental insurance plans cover the cost of necessary X-rays, sometimes also requiring a copay between $5-$50 or a limit on the amount of X-rays allowed to be covered.

Overall, your oral health is greatly aided by having X-rays taken on schedule with your dentist. Hopefully this article answers any questions you may have had about dental X-rays, their importance, safety, and cost. If you have any further questions regarding X-rays or your ability to receive one, never hesitate to contact us at Family Dental Health Center. Our staff of professional, experienced providers can provide you with all the information you’ll need to consider your next dental visit.