What are Dental X-rays?
Radiographs, commonly called X-rays, are pictures of the body taken with a special type of camera. (Technically, the X-rays are the radiation used, while the radiograph is the picture that is taken. However, it’s common even among providers to refer to the radiograph as “an X-ray,” and this article will do the same.) They allow detailed visualization of parts of the interior of the body, especially bones and teeth. Dental radiographs may be taken to check for decay between teeth; to check for bone loss due to gum disease; to look for abnormalities below the gum line such as impacted teeth, tumors, or infections; and for other reasons. Typically, dentists regularly take bitewing X-rays, a set of four X-rays which show the molars, at check-ups, to look for tooth decay. This is usually recommended once per year, but your dentist may recommend more or fewer X-rays depending on your situation.
Radiographs are also used in orthodontic treatment, so that the orthodontist knows exactly how the teeth and jaw are arranged in order to plan treatment, and in oral surgery, to plan the process of surgery to be as safe as possible. Many dentists take a full set of X-rays during an initial appointment.
When you’re considering any dental procedure, it’s important to know the risks and weigh them against the benefits. Once you understand the procedure, then you can make your decision about whether or not to proceed. To help you in your decision-making process, we have some information about the risks and benefits of having dental X-rays at Dental X-rays: Risks and Benefits.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential dental procedure with your own dentist.
How it’s done
To take dental radiographs, a special X-ray machine is needed. For bitewing X-rays, the machine is often small enough that it can be wheeled over to the regular dental exam chair, and you won’t have to leave to a different room for your X-rays. For more extensive X-rays, you’ll go to a special X-ray room. To protect normal tissue, a lead apron may be draped over your torso, often with a special neck cover to protect your thyroid gland from the X-rays. X-ray detectors (film) are placed inside the mouth, behind the teeth or bone to be imaged. The X-ray emitter is positioned, and a quick burst of X-rays is generated. Then the film is removed from the mouth and taken for development. Often, the images are digital. The dentist views the images to diagnose problems and plan treatment.
Preparing for the procedure
Choosing your dentist
Because cosmetic dentistry is not a recognized dental specialty, if a dentist calls himself or herself a “cosmetic dentist,” it doesn’t necessarily mean much. More importantly, you want to find out whether this particular dentist has experience performing the procedure you’re interested in. It’s at least as important to find a dentist with whom you feel comfortable, who listens to you, tries to understand your goals, and answers your questions. Referrals from friends and family, especially if they’ve had the particular procedure you’re considering, can be especially valuable.
Planning for the Cost
Of course, you’ll want to know the cost of your procedure, whether insurance will cover it, and how you’ll finance it. For more, visit our Dental X-rays Cost page.
Dental X-rays are not painful, and there’s virtually no recovery time needed. If you chose sedation dentistry because of anxiety about dental treatment, then you’ll need the appropriate recovery time from the sedative.