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Why does my dentist take X-rays?

If you see a dentist regularly you probably have dental X-rays taken every so often. But if you've ever wondered why dental X-rays are needed and whether they're safe, you're not alone. Today, our Edmonton dentists answer some common questions about this procedure.

What are dental X-rays?

Also commonly referred to as radiographs, your dentist takes dental X-rays - images of your teeth - to assess your oral health. Only low levels of radiation are necessary to create the images of the teeth and gums inside your mouth. The X-rays help your dentist to identify various oral health issues such as tooth decay, impacted teeth and cavities. 

While they may seem complex, X-rays are actually common tools used at your dentist's office, and are just as important to have done regularly as teeth cleanings. 

How is a dental X-ray taken?

You don't need to make any special preparations before coming in for a dental X-ray, but you will want to brush your teeth before arriving for your appointment as this creates a more hygienic environment for the dentist who's working inside your mouth. X-rays are typically done before cleanings. 

The dentist will have you sit in a chair and place a lead vest across your chest and lap. He or she will then position the X-ray machine beside your head to capture images of your mouth. Your X-rays might be done in the same room as your cleanings or other procedures, or in a separate room.

Why do I need dental X-rays?

The dentist will typically take new dental X-rays once a year at one of your regular hygiene appointments. They may need to be taken more frequently if your dentist needs to track the progress of a dental problem or treatment. 

Factors that can impact how often your dentist will take X-rays include:

  • Your current oral health
  • Any symptoms of oral disease
  • Your age
  • A history of tooth decay or gum disease 

If you're a new patient coming in to see one of our Edmonton dentists for the first time, he or she may take dental X-rays to get a clear picture of your dental health. This is especially critical if you don't have any X-rays from a previous dentist.

Because children's teeth are still developing, the dentist may need to take dental X-rays of your child's mouth more often to track growth of their adult teeth. This is essential to helping the dentist find out whether baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications such as adult teeth erupting behind baby teeth. 

What do dental X-rays show?

Depending on the type of X-ray your dentist takes, the radiographic image may reveal any cavities between teeth (interdental), how your upper and bottom teeth line up when your jaw is closed, or problems with the jaw, to name a few. There's even an X-ray that captures all of the teeth in one shot. 

X-rays can also help your dentist detect problems such as abscesses, changes in bone or the root canal due to infection and bone loss that accompanies gum disease. They may also be done in preparation for procedures such as tooth implants, dentures, braces or others.

With digital X-rays, we can produce 3D images of the teeth, jaw, sinuses, nasal cavity and soft tissues in the face. They offer a more comprehensive view of facial structures than regular X-rays can, and capture them in a clearer, more precise image. These X-rays also allow your dentist to see your teeth, jaw and oral and nasal cavity from several different angle. The dentist can easily change zoom distance, angles and rotation of the image to focus on areas of concern. 

How many X-rays do I need?

This may vary depending on the purpose and type of the X-rays your dentist is taking, along with how much dental work you've had and the current condition of the work. Your dental hygiene and whether you have any signs of dental decay or gum disease also play a role, as well your age (since risk of oral health issues varies throughout your life). 

The decision to order X-rays should be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, some adult patients have X-rays every five years, while some get them every two years or even more frequently. Multiple images may be ordered so the dentist can fully examine areas of concern. 

At Azarko Dental Group, we always welcome questions about dental X-rays and any other procedures your dentist may perform at our office. 

What are the different types of dental X-rays?

Your dentist may take different types of dental X-rays depending on your needs. These include:

Intraoral X-rays

These X-rays are captured inside the mouth and are the most common type of X-ray taken. They reveal many details and enable your dentist to detect cavities, check the health of the bone around the tooth as well as the tooth root, and the status of developing teeth. They also allow the dentist to assess the general health of your jawbone and teeth. 

Bitewing - Show detail of the upper and lower teeth in a singular area of the mouth, and are used to detect changes in bone density due to gum disease and decay between teeth.

Occlusal - These types of X-rays are larger and show full tooth placement and development. The entire arch of the teeth in either the upper or lower jaw is revealed. 

Periapical - Reveal the entire tooth, from the crown to beyond the end of the root to where the tooth anchors into the jaw. Full tooth dimension is shown and includes all teeth in one part of the upper or lower jaw. These X-rays are used to find abnormalities of surrounding bone and root structure.

Extraoral X-rays

Are captured outside the mouth. While they show teeth, the main focus is on the skull and jaw. Mainly used to monitor jaw growth and development in relation to teeth, identify impacted teeth and look for potential problems between the jaws, teeth and temporomandibular joint, they do not provide the detail we get with intraoral X-rays.

Panoramic - Show the entire area of the mouth and all the teeth in upper and lower jaws. Useful for detecting emerging and fully emerged teeth, a panoramic X-ray can help your dentist diagnose tumors and identify impacted teeth.

Tomograms - Are used to examine structures that are difficult to see clearly, usually because other structures are close to the structure being viewed. A particular layer or "slice" of the mouth is revealed while other layers are blurred out.

Cephalometric Projections - Reveal an entire side of the head and are used to examine teeth in relation to the jaw and profile of the individual. 

Sialography - Allows your dentist to visualize salivary glands after injecting dye (radiopaque contrast agent) into the glands so the organ can be viewed on the X-ray film. This organ is a soft tissue that we could not otherwise see with an X-ray. This type of X-ray might allow your dentist to detect salivary gland problems such as blockages or Sjögren's syndrome.

Computed Tomography  (CT Scan) - Shows the interior structures of the body as a three-dimensional image. It's used to detect problems in the facial bones such as fractures or tumors. These scans can also be used to assess bone for difficult extractions and dental implant placement to avoid potential complications during a surgical procedure and recovery. 

Are dental X-rays safe?

Now that you know what dental X-rays are, why they're needed at every stage of development for children and adults, what they show and the different types of images, you may be wondering whether dental X-rays are safe. Many patients have questions or concerns about the safety aspects of the procedure, whether they ask, 'How many dental X-rays are safe?' or 'Are dental X-rays dangerous?'

While radiation is involved in dental X-rays, the exposure levels are so low that they're considered safe for children and adults. Our dentists at Azarko Dental Group use digital X-rays instead of traditional film radiographs, which lowers the risk of exposure to radiation even more. 

A lead bib is placed over the chest, abdomen and pelvic area to prevent your vital organs from being exposed to any unnecessary radiation. In case of thyroid conditions, a thyroid collar may also be used. Women and children of childbearing age may also wear these along with a lead bib. 

Pregnancy is a special consideration when it comes to dental X-rays, as women who are pregnant or believe they may be pregnant should avoid any type of X-ray. Let your dentist know if you believe you are pregnant, since radiation is not considered safe for developing fetuses. 

Do you have questions about dental implants and whether you may be a candidate? Contact our Edmonton dentists. We are always happy to answer inquiries or address concerns.

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