Adults who maintain good oral hygiene practices and visit their dentists regularly at least twice a year or once every six months and are currently not suffering from any dental issues might only need dental x-rays (or bitewing x-rays) only every two to three years. However, the details are not that simple.
Dental X-rays can help dental specialists in detecting and visualizing various oral health issues and dental diseases, that are otherwise not detectable in a simple dental exam. With proper dental x-rays, the Skymark Smile Centre dentists can also find and treat early dental issues before they can develop, potentially saves you from unnecessary pain and discomfort, money, and various potential complications.
What Dental X-Rays can Detect?
Dental X-rays can:
- Identify small decays and cavities that are otherwise not visible with a regular oral exam. For example, small decays in areas between teeth.
- Detect bone loss and bone damage due to gum disease and infections
- Show decays that are forming below existing dental filling or crown
- Detect infections that are forming changes in the root canal and jaw bone
- Ensuring various issues that might complicate procedures like dental implants, dentures, braces, and others
- Detect tooth abscess—a “gap” due to the infection at the root of a tooth or between the tooth and the gumline—
This is obviously not an all-inclusive list. In children and teenagers, dental x-rays can also be used to:
- Detect signs of teeth decay
- Check whether there is enough space in the mouth to fit incoming teeth
- Determine whether baby teeth are being shed quickly enough before permanent teeth can erupt
- Determine the growth of wisdom teeth (in late teenage years/early adulthood) and check whether the wisdom teeth are impacted
- Identify various abnormalities like oral cancer, tumors, cysts, and so on
When You Should Take Dental X-Rays?
The answer to this question would depend on your existing oral health and overall medical history, as well as your current condition. For example, those with recent gum disease or dental issues might need to get X-rays every six months. As mentioned further above, people with good oral hygiene and with regular visits to the dentist might only need X-rays every couple of years or so.
People in the following categories might be considered “high-risk”, and may need more frequent dental X-rays:
- Adults with a high quantity of dental fillings and other restorative work (implants, crowns, etc. ) Frequent x-rays might be necessary to detect decays and cavities beneath the fillings and crowns.
- Children. In children and teenagers where the jaws and teeth are still developing, decays can reach the inner part of the dentin (inner layer of the tooth) and may spread faster due to the small size of the teeth.
- People with gum disease history. Frequent x-rays are necessary to monitor bone loss.
- People who consume a high amount of sugars and/or starches. They are more prone to decays and cavities, so will need more frequent dental x-rays.
- People with dry mouth. This can be due to medications or various health issues, low production of saliva (the body’s natural defense to bacteria), can increase the risks of cavities.
- Smokers. People who regularly consume tobacco are at an increased risk of developing gum disease.
In general, here are the guideline to follow regarding the frequency of dental X-rays:
|Initial Assumption||High-risk patients (with decay/cavity history)||Patients not at high risk for||High-risk patients(with gum disease history)||Wisdom Teeth|
|Children||X-rays might be necessary when not all areas in the mouth can be properly visualized||X-rays are taken every 6 months or until no issues are present.||X-rays are taken every year or every 2 years, or when there are areas of the teeth that cannot be probed or visualized||X-rays when gum disease is present||–|
|Teenagers||X-rays when there is any evidence of gum disease or substantial decay.||X-rays are taken every 6 months or until no issues are present.||X-rays are taken every 18 months to 36 months.||X-rays when gum disease is present||X-rays should be taken when the patient is entering early adulthood to monitor the development of wisdom teeth|
|Adults||X-rays are taken every year or every 18 months or until no issues are present.||X-rays are taken every 2 years to 36 months.||X-rays when gum disease is present||–|
Are Dental X-Rays Safe?
Dental X-rays are, in virtually all cases, totally safe.
However, X-rays do require very low levels of radiation exposure. All kinds of radiations, including from various household appliance, x-rays, and even the sun, can damage the cells in our body and yes, can lead to cancer development in rare cases.
However, the radiation levels during a dental x-ray is extremely small, and in fact is one of the lowest radiation doses compared to other medical x-rays. If your dentist is using the newer digital x-rays (which involve even lower radiation levels, up to 80% lower), then it’s almost 100% safe.
Various new technologies and advancements in medical dentistry are directed towards minimizing the risks associated with dental x-rays. However, even if the effects are very small, it can add in accumulation over a lifetime, every radiation—no matter how small— from all kinds of sources do count.
This is why discussing with your dentist about the frequency of X-rays and why they are actually taken is important. As discussed in the guidelines above, X-rays should be given only when absolutely necessary for clinical diagnosis.
However, keep in mind that today’s X-rays are extremely safe, so you shouldn’t be too paranoid about it.
If you maintain proper oral hygiene practices and make the regular visit to the dentist once every six months, you might only need dental x-rays every two or three years, or when there are any symptoms of teeth decay or gum disease.
Modern dental x-rays (especially digital x-ray) are extremely safe with very low radiation levels, so if your dentist just told you to take an x-ray, you shouldn’t worry, as it can definitely help in getting a proper diagnosis and in treating your oral health issues.