Why Do We Need to Take Radiographs at the Dentist?

Radiographs are a key aspect of thorough and detailed dental care - both restorative and preventative. If you’re like many people, you may be wondering why you need radiographs done at the dentist. Today, we are breaking down everything you need to know.

What are Radiographs?

Radiographs - commonly referred to as x-rays - are images that are taken with the use of high-energy electromagnetic radiation.

This type of radiation can not be absorbed by the soft tissues of our bodies, such as the organs and skin. Since the radiation is not absorbed, it passes through easily. When it encounters bones and teeth, the radiation is absorbed. The absorption of radiation allows for images to be registered: this is how radiograph images are created.

Traditionally, dental radiographs were processed physically on film, though most modern practices now use digital radiographing techniques, instead. Digital radiographs are quicker, more convenient, and expose the patient to less radiation than traditional film radiographs. Here at FY Smile, we are proud to offer comprehensive digital dental radiography services to help us provide the very best treatment for our patients.

Therapeutic vs. Diagnostic

Generally speaking, there are two main types of dental radiographs: therapeutic and diagnostic.

Therapeutic x-rays are typically used for periodic check-ups, initial examinations, and other routine visits. 

Diagnostic x-rays are used to take a closer look at a tooth (or teeth) when treatment is being administered or planned. Root canals, fillings, and dental implants are all examples of dental treatment that may require the use of an x-ray to make sure that treatment is properly planned and carried out.

Different Types of Dental Radiographs

Below are the different types of dental radiographs that are typically used in a clinical setting:

  • Bitewing: Bitewing x-rays are used to examine the teeth in the back of the mouth. This type of image is used to examine both the upper and lower arch of teeth at once. Bitewings can be used to examine bone levels, detect decay, or examine the margins of dental crowns or bridges.
  • Periapical: A periapical x-ray captures the entirety of one or two teeth from the tip of the root to the end of the crown. This type of image also gives a good look at the bone that surrounds the tooth(or teeth). Periapical x-rays are typically used to take an in-depth look at the roots of the teeth, to detect any signs of infection, or to take a look at the bone that surrounds the tooth.
  • Panoramic: A panoramic x-ray captures the entirety of the mouth all in one image. Panoramic images are typically used for determining which teeth are present, examining bone density, and taking a close look at the positioning of the wisdom teeth.
  • Cone Beam/CT Scan: This type of dental radiograph is completely three-dimensional and allows for an incredibly close look at bone density. Cone beam images are typically used for dental implant treatment planning.

Are Dental Radiographs Safe?

It is a very common question: are dental x-rays safe? 

The answer is yes, they are! Dental radiographs use a very small amount of radiation to produce the images that are required to successfully diagnose issues and examine the teeth and jaw bone. In fact, a flight on an airplane actually exposes you to more radiation than dental x-rays.

While radiographs emit very low levels of radiation, there is of course still a mild risk of exposure that must be addressed. Lead aprons - typically accompanied by a lead thyroid collar - are successfully used to block the small amount of radiation that is emitted from penetrating the body.

Modern dentistry adheres to the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) standard to ensure that any and all radiation used for diagnostic purposes is safe for the patient. This means:

  • Using the proper exposure and processing techniques
  • Using lead aprons and thyroid collars
  • Reducing the size of the x-ray beam to the size of the image receptor (when possible)
  • Using the fastest image receptor available

There is one case in which dental radiographs may not be ideal: pregnancy. It is typically recommended to avoid having x-rays taken while you are pregnant. If you are pregnant or think there is a chance that you may possibly be pregnant, it is very important that you inform your dentist right away.

In the case of a dental emergency that may require the need for a radiograph to be taken, your dentist will typically ask you to get in touch with your OBGYN to determine which steps should be taken.

Why Do I Need Dental Radiographs Taken?

While an intra-oral examination can help your dentist gather information about the health of your teeth and gums, there are some things that simply can not be detected by the naked eye. 

Radiographs allow your dentist to take a deeper and more thorough look at your teeth and bone. Taking a fully-informed approach to treatment allows for a more personalized and effective treatment plan to be designed, and helps ensure that any potential issues can be treated in a timely manner.

Dental x-rays help detect the following:

  • Bone loss
  • Positioning of teeth
  • Decay or fractures beneath existing fillings
  • Number of teeth present inside the mouth
  • Abscesses (and other signs of infection)
  • Cysts or tumors
  • Cavities and other decay
  • Bone density
  • Pre-existing dental restorations (such as root canals, crowns, dental bridges, and more)
  • Bone diseases
  • Reveal developmental abnormalities

Without the use of dental radiographs, issues like infection, small chips or cracks, bone loss, or newly-developed cavities would likely go undetected until they posed a real and serious issue.

Dental radiographs are also an important part of dental treatment for children; x-rays allow the dentist to take a close look at the growth and development of the teeth and jaw bone. Keeping a close eye allows the dentist to properly oversee a child’s dental health and gives them the opportunity to intercept whenever necessary.

How Often Do I Need to Have Dental X-Rays Taken?

Dental radiographs are an exponential tool. But how often do you actually need to have x-rays taken at the dentist?

It is typically recommended to have a small set of diagnostic x-rays taken every six months at your periodic dental check-up; these x-rays allow your dentist to take a close look at the health of your teeth and bone to ensure that nothing goes undetected.

You typically only need to have a complete set of x-rays done every 2-3 years. If you are a new patient and have not had radiographs done in a while, it is likely that your new dentist will request that a full set be taken in order to provide you with a thorough and detailed preliminary examination.

As previously mentioned, radiographs are exponentially useful for successfully treating and monitoring a child’s dental growth and development. It is for this reason that children may need to have radiographs taken more frequently.

Individuals with periodontal (gum) disease, those that are more susceptible to decay, or those that have recently undergone a significant amount of restorative dental treatment may also be asked to return more frequently to have radiographs taken. Of course, this is at the discretion of your dentist. If you are wondering how often you should personally be returning to have dental x-rays taken, be sure to consult your dentist.

FY Smile: Best Dentist in Sydney

Here at FY Smile, we strive to provide our patients with an unparalleled level of dental care; that is why we are proud to offer comprehensive dental and orthodontic treatment in beautiful Sydney. 

Whether you are interested in dental veneers, Invisalign, traditional braces, a complete smile makeover, or a simple dental cleaning, you are in good hands. Our team of caring dental professionals is here to provide the treatment you need to create the beautiful and healthy smile that you have always dreamt of.

Your journey towards optimal dental health begins here. In addition to offering braces and Invisalign in Sydney, FY Smile is proud to offer a wide range of dental services. From basic tooth fillings to dental implants to deep cleanings and more, we’ve got you covered.

For more information about dental x-rays in Sydney or to get scheduled in our Double Bay dental clinic, feel free to give us a call anytime at 02 8319 5557

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