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Dental X-Rays

Why It Is Done

Dental X-rays are done to:

  • Find problems in the mouth such as tooth decay, damage to the bones supporting the teeth, and dental injuries (such as broken tooth roots). Dental X-rays are often done to find these problems early, before any symptoms are present.
  • Find teeth that are not in the right place or do not break through the gum properly. Teeth that are too crowded to break through the gums are called impacted.
  • Find cysts, solid growths (tumors), or abscesses.
  • Check for the location of permanent teeth growing in the jaw in children who still have their primary (or baby) teeth.
  • Plan treatment for large or extensive cavities, root canal surgery, placement of dental implants, and difficult tooth removals.
  • Plan treatment of teeth that are not lined up straight (orthodontic treatment).

Without X-rays, dentists may miss the early stages of decay between teeth.

For people who have no tooth decay and are not at high risk of getting cavities:1

  • Adults should have bitewing X-rays every 2 to 3 years.
  • Teens should have bitewing X-rays every 1½ to 3 years.
  • Children should have bitewing X-rays every 1 to 2 years.

For people who have tooth decay or are at high risk of getting cavities:1

  • Adults should have bitewing X-rays every 6 months to 1½ years.
  • Children and teens should have bitewing X-rays every 6 to 12 months.

How To Prepare

Before the X-ray test, tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant. Dental X-rays are only done on your mouth area, but if you are pregnant, routine dental X-rays may be postponed so you do not have any radiation to your baby (fetus). If dental X-rays are absolutely needed, a lead apron will be placed over your belly to shield your baby from the X-rays.

You do not need to do anything else before having a dental X-ray.

How It Is Done

Dental X-rays are taken in the dentist's office. The X-ray pictures are read by your dentist.

  • A dental technician will cover you with a heavy lead apron as you sit upright in a chair. This apron shields your body from X-rays. The technician can cover your neck with the collar of the apron (called a thyroid shield) to shield the thyroid gland camera.gif from radiation.
  • Everyone else in the room wears a protective apron or stays behind a protective shield.
  • The dental technician will have you bite down on a small piece of cardboard or plastic. The cardboard or plastic holds X-ray film. You may do this several times to get pictures of all your teeth. Some X-ray machines have a camera that circles your head and takes pictures of your teeth while you sit or stand.
  • You may want to rinse your mouth before and after the X-rays.

Some dentists use digital radiography. This method uses an electronic sensor instead of X-ray film. An electronic image is taken and stored in a computer. This image can be viewed on a computer screen. Less radiation is needed to make an image with digital radiography than with standard dental X-rays.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 13, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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