You may be concerned when your dentist tells you that x-rays need to be taken. You may wonder whether they are really necessary, how you can benefit from them, and whether or not there will be any risk to your health. We'll try to provide some specific answers to those questions here.

Are dental x-rays necessary?
Yes, they provide information for detection, diagnosis and treatment of conditions that can threaten your oral and general health. Many of these diseases are not visible with the naked eye. Here is a list of conditions that can only be detected using x-rays:
  • To find decay in between the teeth.
  • To detect dental abscess before any other signs are present.
  • To detect bone cysts.
  • To see the condition of periodontal bone levels.
  • To see the condition of tooth roots.
  • To determine the condition of existing restorations.
  • To determine the presence of impacted or un-erupted teeth.
  • To locate deep plaque and tartar.
  • To see the relative position of the tooth roots to the sinuses.
  • To determine if orthodontics is necessary and appropriate.

How often should dental x-rays be taken?
X-rays frequency is determined on an individual basis. It is necessary to start with a full set of x-rays, and update that set with recall x-rays at least once per year. For patients who have had extensive crowns or fillings done, or if the patient has had treatment for periodontal disease, the x-rays need to be done more frequently.

What is a full-mouth series of x-rays?
This is a set of x-rays that targets all the teeth individually. Generally, this includes 18 to 20 x-rays.


What is a panoramic x-ray?
Panoramic x-rays cover the entire mouth, jaw and sinuses on a single film. This type of x-ray is most useful in the detection of many problems including abscesses and impacted teeth, but are not precise enough to detect small cavities in between teeth.

How much radiation is involved with dental x-rays?
Using state of the art technology, a full set of x-rays will deliver a dose of 3 millirem of radiation. This is equal to 4 days of being outdoors. Federal and state regulations for workers whose occupation involves exposure to radiation sets 5000 millirems of radiation per year as safe.

Who determines how much radiation is safe?
The Center for Devices and Radiological Health of the Food and Drug Administration (, the American Dental Association (, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements are a few of the organizations that monitor x-ray usage. Many states also have regulations regarding x-rays and x-ray equipment.

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