About Dental Radiographs (X-rays)
Why are X-rays important?
Radiographs, commonly know as X-rays, are an important tool to
help your dentist properly diagnose your oral health needs. They
allow your dentist to see beyond what the naked eye can see.
X-rays help the dentist determine if you have dental caries (cavities),
periodontal (gum) disease, abscesses or abnormal growths, such
as tumors or cysts. They also show the location and condition of
impacted or unerupted teeth.
How often should X-rays be taken?
How often X-rays are taken and what types your dentist recommends
is based on his or her responsibility to do a complete exam and to
ensure that problems are detected early to minimize damage to your
teeth and/or gums. It also depends on the condition of your mouth,
the degree of problems present and what parts of your mouth your
dentist needs to see. If you had X-rays taken recently and then change
dentists, you can request a copy of your X-rays be sent to your new
Types of X-rays
Bitewings are one of the most common sets of X-rays. Bitewings show
teeth above the gum line and the height of the bone between teeth.
Bitewings help diagnose gum disease and cavities between teeth. The
bitewing X-ray is placed on the tongue side of your teeth and held in
place by biting down on a cardboard tab. Normally four bitewings
are taken as a set. They may be taken as often as every six months
for people with frequent cavities or every two or three years for
individuals with good oral hygiene and no cavities.
A “full-set” of X-rays shows all of your teeth and all of the surrounding
bone, Helping to diagnose cavities, cysts or tumors, abscesses,
impacted teeth, and gum disease. A full set usually consists of 14-20
individual X-rays and is generally recommended during the first visit
with a new dentist to aid in proper diagnosis and treatment planning.
A panorex is a full-mouth X-ray that is taken without ever putting an
X-ray film into your mouth. Instead, as you sit still, the X-ray head
rotates around you, providing one large image of your jaws and
teeth. This type of X-ray is particularly helpful for seeing the upper and
lower jaws at one time and can show impacted teeth or other hidden
structures that could be hard to see on the small, individual film used
for a “traditional” full-set.
A periapical (PA)X-ray refers to a single X-ray that is taken to show
a specific area of concern. If you have a tooth ache, your dentist is
likely to recommend a PA film to see that whole tooth, including the root.
How much radiation is there with dental X-rays?
• A bitewing set consisting of four X-rays exposes the patient to 22
to 51 microSv (microsievert).
• A panoramic examination results in exposures of about 5 to 25
• Cone-beam X-rays result in a wide variety of exposure ranging
from a little as 20 microSv to as much as 700 microSv depending
on image size and the brand of cone-beam machine used.
To understand what this means, this can be compared with the
average amount of background radiation (radiation occurring in
the environment) a person is exposed to in a year. That average,
worldwide, is 2400 microSv per year.
In recommending X-rays, dentists follow the ALARA principle (As Low
As Reasonably Achievable), to reduce radiation exposure to their
patients by: determining the need for and type of X-rays to take; using
“best practices” when taking X-rays, including the application of
quality control procedures; and reading the images completely and
X-rays are an important diagnostic tool for your dentist. Early detection
and treatment of disease is the best way to ensure a healthy mouth
over a lifetime. Your dentist should recommend only the X-rays needed
to ensure your optimum oral health. If you have questions or concerns
about the types or frequency of the X- rays your dentist recommends,
be sure to ask your dentist questions.