If you’ve been to your dentist for a cleaning or have had a dental issue, you’ve probably had a dental X-ray before. But, many of us don’t really know why they’re such an important part of having a healthy mouth.

Whether you’ve had dental x-rays before or maybe are preparing for one soon, we have everything you need to know to educate yourself. At Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry, we like to make sure our patients are fully aware of all procedures so that they can have a clear picture of their oral health.

As we look at the different types of dental X-rays, we’re also going to let you know why they’re necessary and how frequently you should have one.

What is a Dental X-Ray?

A dental X-ray is an image of your teeth that is used to look at your oral health. By using low levels of radiation, dentists can capture images of the inside of your teeth and gums.

This can help to identify problems such as:

An X-ray can detect these issues or confirm your dentist’s suspicion that there may be a problem going on inside your mouth. It can help a dentist find hidden tooth decay, plaque and tartar buildup, and potential root rot. Finding these issues as soon as possible is critical to starting a treatment plan to prevent the problem from getting worse. 

Digital vs. Plain Film X-Rays

When it comes to dental X-rays, you may either get a digital X-ray or a plain film X-ray. Digital X-rays are becoming more common because they are easy to use and efficient. They also use a lower amount of radiation.

Digital X-rays are taken using a specialized sensor that sends an image directly to the computer. This allows your dentist to look at it immediately and zoom in on specific areas of concern.

When a plain film X-ray is used, the image may come out too light or too dark, resulting in the need to have it retaken. This is another reason why more dentists are opting for digital X-rays.

Types of Dental X-Rays

There are several types of dental X-rays that you may have done. Each records a slightly different view of your mouth.

The most common are intraoral X-rays. These include:

  • Occlusal

This X-ray is done when your jaw is closed so the dentist can see how your upper and lower teeth line up. It can also detect any anatomical abnormalities with the floor of the mouth or the palate.

  • Bitewing

During this X-ray, you bite down on a special piece of paper to determine how well the crowns of your teeth match up. This is commonly used to see if there are cavities between the teeth.

  • Panoramic

A panoramic X-ray rotates around the head. This can give your dentist a view of your wisdom teeth as well as help determine if implanted dental devices are needed. It can also look into jaw problems.

  • Periapical

This X-ray focuses on two complete teeth from the root to the crown.

At times, an extraoral X-ray may be used if your dentist thinks there may be problems in the jaw and other areas outside of the gums and teeth.

What Happens If You Don’t Get a Dental X-Ray?

If you don’t get dental X-rays regularly, problems that your dentist can’t see with the naked eye can go undiagnosed and get worse over time. This can not only threaten your oral health but your overall health.

Frequency of Dental X-Rays

Dental X-rays don’t need to be done that frequently. These are the guidelines according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  • An adult with no obvious clinical decay and no increased risk should get posterior bitewing X-rays every 2-3 years.
  • Adults with an increased risk of tooth decay, generalized dental disease, or a history of extensive dental treatment, should have posterior bitewings every 6-18 months.
  • For a child with no clinical decay and no risk of decay, posterior bitewing X-rays are recommended every 1-2 years.
  • If a child has visible clinical decay or has an increased risk of dental decay, posterior bitewings are recommended every 6-12 months.

Sticking to this schedule can help to maintain good oral health for adults and children.

Are There Risks Involved with Dental X-Rays?

When some people hear the word X-ray, they immediately get concerned about radiation exposure. With dental X-rays, the exposure levels are so low that they are considered to be safe. If you have a digital X-ray versus a film X-ray, your radiation exposure risk is even lower.

To prepare for the X-ray, your dentist will place a lead apron over your chest, abdomen, and pelvic region. This prevents unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs. Sometimes a thyroid collar is also used if a patient has a thyroid condition.

Pregnancy and Dental X-Rays

There are often mixed feelings about having a dental X-ray while pregnant. But, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the American Dental Association, it is safe to have dental X-rays while pregnant with the appropriate shielding. This includes wearing a protective apron around the throat and abdomen.

Many doctors believe that delaying dental work may lead to bigger problems down the road. It’s best to talk with your doctor to make sure they approve of you having a dental X-ray during your pregnancy.

What Happens After You Get a Dental X-Ray

Once your X-ray is complete, the dentist will review it and look for any abnormalities. If problems like tooth decay or cavities are found, your dentist will discuss a treatment plan. If your X-rays show no issues, you’re clear until the next time you’re due.

Are You Looking for a New Family Dentist?

If you’re looking for a new family dentist, Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry is here to take care of all your dental needs, including dental X-rays. Come to us for your regular cleanings as well as cosmetic dentistry and restorative dentistry. We can also help with your dental emergencies. Reach us at our Holly Springs dentist office at [(919)-600-6262 and our Cary dentist office at (919) 467-2203. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We take many different insurance plans and are currently accepting new patients. We look forward to meeting you!