Dental x-rays are commonly used by dentists, and they’re a crucial part of most people’s dental visits. They help a dentist to determine if there is a problem with a patient’s teeth and gums, and allow a dentist to get a look under the surface. If any cavities or decay are present deeper in the tooth, an x-ray is the main way a dentist will discover this.
You may be worried about the use of x-rays within a dentist’s office, and what kind of risks come with having one done. If you’re curious about how dental x-rays work, and whether or not they’re really safe to use, these points should help to inform you on the matter.
Why a Dental X-Ray is Needed
A dental x-ray is usually carried out once a year by a dentist, to ensure their records on a patient’s oral health are up to date, but they can also be carried out multiple times per year if a dentist feels the need to track a patient’s oral health at the moment.
There are quite a few factors involved in how often a dental x-ray will be carried out as well. A patient’s current oral health will be the main factor, but their age, and if they have a history of gum disease or other oral health issues, will also be a part of the decision.
Children will have more dental x-rays taken than adults, due to the rapid development of their adult teeth, after their ‘milk’ teeth begin to fall out.
The Types of Dental X-Rays
X-rays come in multiple varieties, but the most common variety is known as an intraoral X-ray. Intraoral x-rays themselves can be done in a variety of different ways as well, based on the view of a patient’s mouth the dentist needs to record. Let’s go through the most common:
Bitewing – Used to check for cavities between teeth by having the patient bite down on a piece of paper. This paper allows the dentist to see how the crowns of the teeth line up.
Panoramic – Used for a variety of issues, but most commonly done to check for wisdom teeth, or to check to see how dental implants will fit. The x-ray machine will rotate around a patient’s head during this procedure.
Occlusal – Used to determine how well a patient’s upper and bottom teeth line up. The patient closes their mouth when this x-ray is taken, to allow the dentist to check for abnormalities in the palate.
Periapical – Used to check for abnormalities in the root of the tooth. This x-ray scans a small portion of a patient’s teeth, and checks the tooth from the root to the crown.
The Risks of a Dental X-Ray
Most people are concerned about dental x-rays due to the fact that radiation is involved. However, the amount of radiation used during an x-ray is so small it’s considered safe for human beings to be around in the short term.
Many safeguards are taken during x-rays, to ensure the risks of doing one are very low. Indeed, some x-rays will require a dentist to place a ‘bib’ made out of lead over certain parts of a patient’s body, such as the pelvic region, or the chest and abdomen. This prevents any excess radiation from penetrating the body in these parts, due to their vital organ placement.
Similarly, many dentists now use digital x-rays to view the radiographs taken during the visit. This helps to drastically lower the amount of radiation used during the procedure, as they will not need to develop the images on film.
Of course, some risks still remain. If a patient is pregnant, or suspects they may be pregnant, an x-ray should be avoided entirely. Any and all radiation levels are unsafe for fetuses, and dentists should be made aware of a patient’s condition before deciding to carry out an x-ray.
What Happens Next
Once the images from a patient’s x-ray have been taken and developed, the dentist will use them to check for problems in the teeth and gums and even the underlying bone structure of a person’s jaw.
If you’re visiting a hygienist as well, they will also go over the images. Both medical professionals will talk over any issues they see in the photographs with you, and then future treatment or prevention for these issues can be discussed.
There are no further risks during this period, and a patient can look to a future of continued or better oral health.