Dental X-rays: An Essential Tool For the Dental Team

Why Routine Dental X-Rays Are Essential

When looking in your mouth, your dentist or hygienist can only see what is in their direct line of sight. This includes the chewing surfaces of your teeth, the side against the cheeks and the side against the tongue. With excellent lighting, mouth mirrors, magnification and dental cameras, your dental team can see a lot. However, there are many parts of the mouth and teeth that are invisible…

Anything below the gums, encased in the jawbone, deep inside tooth grooves, under fillings or between the teeth is generally invisible to the eyes and instruments of your dental team. No amount of magnification, light or probing will reveal what really is happening in these hidden areas.

This is when your dentist or hygienist will reach for the dental x-ray machine. With a simple set of x-rays, so much more information about your dental health is revealed! Suddenly the dentist becomes aware of the cavity between your lower left molars, the leaking filling in your upper left premolar, the degree of impaction of your wisdom teeth and how far your gum disease has progressed.

What Information Do Dental X-rays Provide?

The area where your teeth touch together is an area that is quite vulnerable to decay, especially if you haven’t been a regular flosser. If weak areas in the enamel are diagnosed early enough with x-rays, preventive measures such as prescription fluoride gels, or increased flossing can prevent the area from becoming a cavity. Without x-rays, these tiny spots will turn into cavities that are only visible to the naked eye when they become quite large.

Not only do dental x-rays diagnose decay, but they are also used to monitor gum disease and bone loss around your teeth. For patients with a personal or family history of tooth loss or gum disease, this is essential in diagnosing and monitoring their disease condition.

Routine x-rays are important in monitoring the margins (edges) and life span of existing dental restorations such as fillings, bridges, crowns and implants. If an area begins to leak and allows new decay under the existing restoration, it is not uncommon for x-rays to detect this before the patient begins to feel any symptoms.

The standard of care established by professional dental associations is to routinely take x-rays once every two years, or even more often if a person’s dental history puts them at high risk of decay or gum disease. Some x-rays, such as a ‘panoramic film’ are only taken every 3 to 5 years. The reason those are taken less often is because they are used to monitor different conditions, such as the eruption of wisdom teeth or the progression of orthodontic treatment, which span over a long period of time.

Dental x-rays often allow your dental team to intervene earlier in the disease process, and therefore reduce the amount of time and money you spend at the dentist. Without regular dental x-rays, many people would experience greater amounts of dental disease and would need more dental treatment. X-rays are a critical diagnostic tool for your dentist- but if ever you have questions or concerns about how often your dentist is using them, be sure to ask why.