Had a dental checkup lately? If you have, then you probably had dental X-rays (also called radiographs or images) taken as part of your exam. Dental X-rays help your dentist diagnose and treat oral conditions, like periodontal diseases and cavities, that they may not be able to detect with only their eyes and instruments. In this article, we will discuss the various types of X-rays for different dental conditions as well as provide information on the safety and frequency in which you should get X-rays.
Intraoral X-rays (the film is placed inside the mouth)
Extraoral X-rays (the film is positioned outside the mouth)
Dental X-rays use very low levels of radiation and are generally safe. However, radiation can be damaging and is cumulative over a lifetime. Experts agree that X-rays should only be taken when they are absolutely necessary, and when your dentist can’t make a diagnosis without the information that only the X-ray can provide.
Also, as a precaution, your dental care professional should cover your body with a lead apron when taking X-rays of your teeth. Research indicates that this prevents up to 94% of the radiation from reaching your chest, abdomen, and reproductive organs. For most X-rays, the dental office should also place a lead collar to shield your thyroid gland.
How often you need dental X-rays depends on your age and dental health. Those at lower risk for dental disease and little history of past dental problems need them less frequently than those who are at increased risk or have had a lot of existing dental work. The American Dental Association/U.S. Food and Drug Administration (ADA/FDA) guidelines 3 recommend that adults with no oral health problems typically will only need X-rays every two to three years. People who are at high risk for cavities or have a history of advanced gum disease may need X-rays more frequently.
Bitewing radiographs of the back teeth (usually two to four films) are the most common films captured. The ADA/FDA guidelines3 recommend intervals of six to 12 months between bitewing X-ray exams for children or adolescents with existing tooth decay or increased risk of decay. For children with no decay and at lower risk, intervals of 12 to 24 months are recommended and for low-risk adolescents at 18 to 36 months. Bitewing exams for increased-risk adults are recommended at intervals of six to 18 months and low-risk adults at 24 to 36 months.
An initial comprehensive exam may include bitewings plus multiple periapical films or a panoramic film. Panoramic films or multiple periapical are typically repeated at approximately five-year intervals, depending on the overall oral health of the patient and other factors.
Your dentist can make an oral disease risk determination by examining a variety of factors, including your general and oral health history, diet, oral hygiene habits, and oral exam findings. Remember that your oral health risk factors can change over time, so make sure to get regular dental checkups. This proactive approach to your oral health makes it easier for your dentist to individualize your overall care and any need for X-rays.
If you are concerned about X-rays for your child, then talk to your dentist about the safety and need for any X-rays. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that “…because each patient is unique, the need for dental radiographs can be determined only after consideration of the patient’s medical and dental histories, completion of a thorough clinical examination, and assessment of the patient’s vulnerability to environmental factors that affect oral health.” Your dentist should examine your child’s mouth first to determine if X-rays are necessary. Remember, it’s always important to talk to your dentist to determine the right amount of frequency, which will depend on your child’s dental health profile.
Take a look through Delta Dental’s directory of dentists to find a dentist that can help you decide which type of dental X-ray is best for you.
1 Dental X-rays. Retrieved 25 April 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11199-dental-x-rays
2 Dental X-rays — American Dental Association. Retrieved 25 April 2022, from https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/x/x-rays
3 The Selection of Patients for Dental Radiographic Examinations – ADA/FDA Revised 2012, from https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/selection-patients-dental-radiographic-examinations