Why Does Your Dentist Take X-rays?

October 27, 2021

oral health, xrays

Doctors and medical professionals are there to help you. Their job is to help solve your health issues, relieve stress and anxiety regarding your well-being, and handle your treatments effectively. One of the many useful tools is the X-ray. Even dentists need to use X-rays to help track your oral health and stay ahead of potential problems.

What Are X-rays?

Dental radiographs, or X-rays, are images of your teeth. By using low levels of radiation, dentists can capture images of your teeth and gums internally. Cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth are some of the problems that can be identified in this manner.


While general X-rays are only taken when there are problems, dental X-rays are taken annually. Sometimes, you need to take more if your dentist needs to track the progress of a treatment or problem. Once a year, you can assess your oral health based on these and decide on a treatment plan. New patients often get X-rays for the dentist to have a current understanding of their dental health. At times, older X-rays are inaccurate or cannot be transferred to a new dentist.

Reasons to Take Them

To monitor the changes happening while they grow, children often need to have more dental X-rays than adults. Adult teeth can start growing in behind baby teeth, or there might not be enough space in the child’s mouth for the incoming teeth. The dentist can use X-rays to determine if any baby teeth need to be pulled as a preventative measure.

There are also uncommon reasons to schedule a dental X-ray. Age brings about many changes for the body and can affect your teeth. Your current oral health may change from environmental factors. This can lead to additional decay beneath an existing cap or filling or an infection between the gum and a tooth or at the root of a tooth. Any symptoms of oral disease may become more visible on an X-ray. Experts can find the cause of your symptoms or explore them further with the images.

If you have a history of gum disease or tooth decay, it is worth recording it via X-rays to make sure you are following the best treatment plan. That can also help teach future dentists what different stages look like, both of recovering and deteriorating oral health. Dentists can also detect early bone loss and infection through the use of dental X-rays.

Are They Safe?

All kinds of X-rays involve radiation. Both adults and children are safe, with the exposure levels of dental X-rays being so low. Despite the low levels, most prepared dentists will place a shielding vest or bib over your chest, abdomen, and pelvic region. This is to protect your vital organs from any unnecessary radiation exposure.

Those with thyroid conditions may use a thyroid collar, as well as children and women of child-bearing age. If you are pregnant, you should avoid all types of X-rays. Developing fetuses are highly susceptible to even small amounts of radiation. Safety is the primary concern, in this case, so be sure to inform your dentist if you believe you may be pregnant.

How to Prepare

There is not much you can do to prepare for a dental X-ray that you would not do for a traditional one. Avoid wearing metal objects on, in, or around your mouth and nose to help give your dentist a clearer image. Because you are only taking a picture of your mouth and the tissue immediately around it, you may get away with wearing earrings and necklaces for this kind of X-ray. There are no magnetic forces at work, and generally, the assistant will help you prep during the appointment.

The Process of a Dental X-ray

Generally, you will sit in the chair at the office with a lead vest positioned over your lap and chest. Then, you will have the X-ray machine set up next to your head to record the images of your mouth. Depending on the size of your dentist’s office, the funding, or other factors, you may be taken to a separate room, or they may have a machine in the same room. Some offices have partial wall-dividers that double as storage, meaning they can use the same X-ray machine between two stations. Notwithstanding the setup of the X-ray machine, the result is the same in that they create images of your mouth for the dentist to use in your care.

The Types of Dental X-rays

Different types of dental X-rays can showcase slightly varying images of your mouth. The most common type is the intraoral X-ray. Your dentist can check for cavities between teeth with a technique called the bitewing. You literally bite down on a special piece of paper that shows how well the crowns or tops of your teeth match up.

An occlusal X-ray is done with your jaw closed to see the top and bottom teeth and how well they line up. Usually, this technique captures all your teeth in one shot. If you have any problems or issues with the floor of your mouth, the bottom of it under your tongue, or the palate, this type of X-ray can help detect abnormalities.

One of the most common X-rays that rotate around your head is the panoramic X-ray. Wisdom teeth are checked with this method. It is a great reference for planning implanted dental anchors or devices. If you have jaw problems, this can help the investigation.

If your dentist needs to check a specific tooth from the root to the crown, they take a periapical X-ray. Sometimes, problems outside of the gums and teeth can be the source or cause of an issue in your mouth. Areas like the jaw or sinuses can be seen using extraoral X-rays.

Another potentially useful option is a cone beam CT (CBCT) which includes volume in its image. The use of a cone beam from an X-ray source can be reconstructed by a computer into a 3D image of your mouth. It uses a low-power fluoroscopy tube during the scan that provides continuous imaging. With its single turn motion, a cone beam CT scan can get the results much faster and more efficiently than a traditional X-ray. This can decrease the amount of radiation you get exposed to as well. The CBCT is good for checking wisdom teeth development, creating implant placement plans, and potential pathology identification with a 3D image of your head.

Follow Instructions

You do not have to remember how to do each step. A dental hygienist will be right there to guide you through the X-ray process. Often, they might step out of the room briefly during the time the images are taken. It is important to listen to instructions, such as holding still while getting the X-rays taken to record the clearest pictures and to not have to repeat them. Spacers, if used, will be arranged and moved in your mouth to ensure the image is focused and clear. At the most, you will be uncomfortable and will take little time to complete.

They Can Help

Digital X-rays are instantly available on a computer screen for review. Most modern clinics allow enough time during the appointment for the dentist to examine them and come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. Your dentist may bring forward any problems or potential issues. If you are getting a cleaning, then you will probably chat after.



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