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What Dental X-Rays Tell Us

Dental X-Rays
Why Do I Need X-Rays?

Dental X-rays help your dentist see problems or issues with your teeth and jaw bone that may not be visible during an examination. Early tooth decay can often be uncovered by X-rays, as can infections, bone fractures, misalignments and impacted teeth. X-ray radiation levels are low, and their usefulness as a diagnostic tool can be high. If you have specific concerns or want to learn more about dental X-rays, contact your dentist today.

Dental X-rays provide detailed images of your teeth and jaw bone, allowing your dentist to review the structure, number, and positioning of your teeth. In addition to helping your dentist diagnose injury, damage or disease, X-rays can uncover potential problems that a dentist cannot detect from a visible examination alone.

X-rays reveal any number of issues, including early tooth decay that’s not yet evident on the surface of the tooth and abscessed teeth that harbor interior infections. Other issues X-rays can uncover include bone damage, jaw fractures, and teeth that are misaligned or impacted.

Getting an X-ray taken involves biting down on a piece of film while the X-ray device is moved around to different areas of your mouth to capture images of specific areas. X-rays work by using electromagnetic radiation to penetrate the body, creating an image of the body’s structures on film.

Silver fillings and metal dental restorations are dense, blocking most of the light and appearing white on the X-ray results. Teeth and tissues will show up as gray, while structures containing air will appear black.

How Often Should You Get Them?

The frequency of dental X-rays depends on several factors, including your age, your overall oral health, and your risk for disease. A dentist may choose to take X-rays if you are showing any symptoms of oral disease. They may take X-rays of new patients to get a solid overview of their oral health.

Annual X-rays are often taken to catch tooth decay and other potential problems at their earliest stages. Children may require X-rays more frequently than adults, as their teeth are still developing and typically more prone to tooth decay.

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

Dental X-rays are considered safe, although they do use low levels of radiation. Recommendations created in 2009 by professional dental associations help dentists determine when dental X-rays would be most useful so patients are not exposed to more radiation than necessary.

Dental offices typically use precautions during X-rays. Covering the patient with a lead apron during the procedure protects the abdomen from radiation exposure. A leaded thyroid collar may also be used to protect the thyroid, which is recommended for children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age.


American Dental Association, "X-rays." 2014.

U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus, "Dental X-rays." 2014.

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