Do You Need That X-ray?

You've settled down in the dentist's chair for your cleaning. The hygienist checks your chart-it's time for a new set of dental X-rays. These images of your teeth and jawbone can give your dentist important information about your oral health. They are produced using film or digital technology and allow your dentist to see areas that aren't visible otherwise. These include tooth roots, bones and the places where teeth connect.

X-rays can reveal:

  • Bone diseases, such as osteoporosis
  • Signs and progress of gum disease
  • Tumors
  • Fractures or other damage caused by an illness or accident
  • Small areas of tooth decay
  • The cause of symptoms such as pain, swelling, sensitivity or bleeding
  • Other problems with your teeth or jawbone

How often do you need X-rays? There's no set time frame. Your dentist will decide when to take them based on:

  • Whether you are a new patient
  • When you last had a complete set
  • Your health history and risk for gum disease or other oral conditions
  • Your age
  • Any symptoms you're having

Because X-rays use a small amount of radiation, the American Dental Association recommends dentists take them only when necessary for diagnosis and provide the patient a protective lead apron and thyroid collar. A woman who is pregnant should tell her dentist and, in most cases, wait until after her baby is born to get dental X-rays. Talk with your dentist or doctor if you're concerned about radiation risk.

Sources include: American Dental Association; National Institutes of Health; Journal of the American Dental Association, Vol. 137, No. 10