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Dental x-rays are a common diagnostic procedure that is considered extremely safe. Digital dental x-rays have very low doses of radiation, producing just a fraction of what you are exposed to in one day of natural background radiation. When these x-rays are performed properly, there’s very little cause for concern. A routine examination with four bitewing x-rays exposes you to roughly the same amount of radiation you will experience during a short one to two hour airplane flight.

Who Needs Dental X-Rays

Dental x-rays are used diagnostically to help dentists detect damage and disease not visible during a regular dental exam. Adults receive dental x-rays so dentists can better identify and treat various issues. Using these x-rays, your dentist can see:

  • Areas of decay, including those in between teeth or under a filling
  • Bone loss associated with gum disease
  • Abscesses, which are infections at the root of the tooth or between the tooth and gum
  • Tumors
  • Changes in the root canal

Without an x-ray, many of these problems could go undiagnosed. With an x-ray as a reference, dentists are also better equipped to prepare tooth implants, dentures and other similar treatments.

Children and Dental X-Rays

Many parents are concerned about the impact of dental x-rays on children as they are more sensitive to radiation. However, the amount of radiation in a dental x-ray is still considered safe for a child. Younger patients may require X-rays more often than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing, and their teeth are more likely to be affected by tooth decay than those of adults. These x-rays help dentists to:

  • Ensure the mouth is large enough to accommodate incoming teeth
  • Monitor the development of wisdom teeth
  • Determine whether primary teeth are loosening properly to accommodate new permanent teeth
  • Identify decay and gum disease early

It’s important for children to visit the dentist regularly, and to get x-rays as recommended by the dentist. The exact schedule for these x-rays will vary depending on the child’s individual needs.

Pregnancy and Dental X-Rays

Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid dental x-rays. Though the radiation is minimal, it’s best to avoid all exposure when possible for the health of the developing fetus. For this reason, it’s important to tell your dentist if you are or may be pregnant.

However, there are some instances where pregnant women should still have dental x-rays performed. If you have a dental emergency or are in the middle of a dental treatment plan, you may still need x-rays during your pregnancy. Discuss the issue with your dentist to determine the best way to proceed. It’s crucial that you balance both your dental and prenatal health. Women with periodontal disease are at a higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, so you shouldn’t neglect your teeth during pregnancy.

If your dentist deems an x-ray is necessary, there are certain precautions they follow to keep you and your baby safe. Keeping your dentist informed at all times is the best way to proceed.

Determining Whether X-Rays are Necessary

It’s up to the dentist to make an informed decision as to whether the patient needs x-rays based on:

  • Age
  • Stage of dental development
  • History of oral health
  • Risk factors for various conditions
  • Presenting symptoms

To further minimize your need for x-rays, if you have x-rays from a previous dentist, make sure to transfer these to any new provider to eliminate the need for repeat procedures.

Dental x-rays are considered extremely safe. Don’t hesitate to discuss the need for dental x-rays with your dentist to better understand how he or she can help protect and improve your oral health.