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Dental X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. X-ray pictures can show cavities, hidden dental structures (such as wisdom teeth), and bone loss that cannot be seen during a visual examination. Dental X-rays may also be done as follow-up after dental treatments.
The following types of dental X-rays are commonly used. The X-rays use small amounts of radiation.
A full-mouth series of periapical X-rays (about 14 to 21 X-ray films) is most often done during a person's first visit to the dentist. Bitewing X-rays are used during checkups to look for tooth decay. Panoramic X-rays may be used occasionally. Dental X-rays are scheduled when you need them based on your age, risk for disease, and signs of disease.
Dental X-rays are done to:
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:footnote 1
For people who have tooth decay or are at high risk of getting cavities:footnote 1
Before the X-ray test, tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant. If you have an X-ray, he or she will have you wear a lead apron over your belly to protect your baby from the X-rays.
You do not need to do anything else before having a dental X-ray.
Dental X-rays are taken in the dentist's office. The X-ray pictures are read by your dentist.
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.
X-rays take only a few minutes and are not painful.
Some people may gag on the plastic or cardboard that holds the X-ray film. People often find it easier to relax if they focus on something else (such as an object on the wall) and take slow, deep breaths through their nose during the X-rays.
The amount of radiation used in dental X-rays is low. But there is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.
Dental X-rays are safe during pregnancy. So most dental work can be done while you are pregnant. Delaying dental care can make a problem worse.
Dental X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. Your dentist can talk to you about your X-rays right after they are done.
No tooth decay is seen.
No damage to the bones supporting the teeth is seen.
No dental injuries, such as tooth or jaw fractures, are seen.
No cysts, solid growths (tumors), or abscesses are seen.
No extra or impacted teeth are seen and no teeth are out of their normal place.
Tooth decay is seen.
Damage to the bones supporting the teeth is seen.
Dental injuries, such as tooth or jaw fractures, are seen.
Cysts, solid growths (tumors), or abscesses are seen.
Abnormally placed, extra, or impacted teeth are seen.
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
If you are going to a new dentist, have your other dentist send copies of your dental X-rays to your new dentist. You may not need any more X-rays with your new dentist.
American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs (2006). The use of dental radiographs: Update and recommendations. Journal of the American Dental Association, 137(9): 1304-1312.
Other Works Consulted
American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs (2006). The use of dental radiographs: Update and recommendations. Journal of the American Dental Association, 137(9): 1304-1312. Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD, FAAFP - Family Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
Current as ofMarch 28, 2018
Current as of:
March 28, 2018
Patrice Burgess, MD, FAAFP - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
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