A Primer on Dental X-Rays

It was in 1895 when German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen first produced and detected electromagnetic radiation, which are now commonly called X-rays. Medical and dental care has benefitted greatly from this discovery, and today, X-rays are part and parcel of a doctor or dentist’s diagnostic tools.

Dental X-rays are ordered for a number of reasons. Most dental procedures (dentures, root canals, implants, braces, etc… ) require them before implementation. Dentists also order X-rays to be performed on their patients when they exhibit disturbing symptoms (such as bleeding or sore gums) and an oral exam is unable to reveal the issue.

Dental X-rays and Children

In children and young teens, dental X-rays help dentists watch out for tooth decay, especially between teeth where they cannot be detected by a routine visual examination. X-rays also help dentists determine if there is enough space in the mouth to accommodate a patient’s incoming teeth. Using dental X-rays, dentists can check the development of wisdom teeth and whether some teeth are hindered from emerging through the gums (impacted teeth).

The teeth and jaws of children and young teens are still in a developmental stage. For this reason, dental X-rays are recommended at least once a year to monitor the development closely as well as to foresee and prevent any problems that can occur at this time. However, if a patient does not have a history of dental problems (such as cavities or poor gum condition) and has good oral health, an annual dental X-ray may not be necessary. Only a patient’s regular dentist can determine this.

Dental X-rays and Adults

With the help of dental X-rays, dentists can check for bone loss in adult patients. Bone loss can be due to a patient’s advancing age or caused by gum disease. An X-ray helps dentists in this determination. Dental X-rays also expose other changes in the bone or in the root canal that are caused by infections.

For an adult with a history of dental problems, dentists usually recommend annual dental X-rays to monitor the rate of escalation (or degree of stabilization) of the problems. For adults with good oral health, dental X-rays can be scheduled less often. Again, only a patient’s regular dentist can determine this.

There has been some concern about exposing patients (especially young children) to radiation during a routine X-ray procedure. In reality, the amount of radiation a patient is exposed to in an X-ray examination is roughly equal to the amount one gets from the sun or other sources on a typical sunny day. While this is not a cause for alarm, it is recommended to have X-ray exams only when necessary.