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 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.