X-Rays: Why do we need them?

June 6th, 2017

As part of your routine dental check-ups, your dentist may sometimes recommend taking x-rays. In today’s article, we will be giving you information about the purpose of dental x-rays, and hopefully answering any questions you might have.

Many patients ask us why they need to have an x-ray. Indeed, it may seem out of place given the thorough examination of your mouth that your dentist will have already made. X-rays provide extremely useful extra information to your dentist. They allow them to see problems at an early stage, long before they are visible in your mouth. For example, you might be starting to develop tooth decay, but there may not yet be any physical signs in your mouth. An x-ray can alert you dentist to this, so that they can give advice long before the problem develops. X-rays enable your dentist to see under the enamel of your teeth, giving a much more detailed indication of your oral health. Earlier identification of problems often means treatment is easier and more straightforward than if problems are left to develop over time. X-rays are also really useful for children, and can provide information about how their adult teeth are developing.

When considering how often an x-ray might be needed, anything between every 6 to 24 months can be perfectly normal. The frequency with which your dentist takes an x-ray will depend upon individual factors such as your age and dental history. As a new patient to a surgery, it is likely your new dentist will suggest taking x-rays to enable them to get to know the overall condition of your teeth.

Several different types of x-ray can be used, with the main differences relating to the size or amount of your mouth that is x-rayed. Sometimes your dentist might just want to take a small x-ray, to look at one or two teeth. On other occasions, your whole mouth might be looked at. In addition to x-rays, electronic ‘imaging’ systems are also sometimes used. These use electronic probes instead of x-ray films, and send images directly to a screen.

Some patients naturally feel a little cautious about x-rays. Technology has advanced a great deal over the years, and with the modern equipment that is available, risks are minimised. The amount of radiation from an x-ray is very small. We’re actually exposed to more radiation from our general living environment, for example from minerals in the soils. If you’re pregnant however, let your dentist know as this may influence their decision to carry out an x-ray.

In summary, x-rays provide a great deal of useful information for dentists, and can help them to pre-empt emerging problems and plan treatment long before the problem gets too advanced. If you have any concerns at all about x-rays, your dentist will be happy to discuss them with you at your next appointment.

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