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Why We Take X-rays And How They Help The Dentist With Your Oral Health

Staff | October 2022

If you’ve been to the dentist for a regular checkup then you’re probably familiar with the process of having your teeth X-rayed. The heavy lead apron draped over your body, the (admittedly - sorry) uncomfortable inserts we make you bite down on, and the buzz of the machine as it takes a picture of your teeth.


Fun fact: the inserts you have to bite down on hold the film for imaging X-rays.


Why do we need to take x-rays and what are we looking for when we do? Good question. Believe it or not, there isn’t just one type of X-ray. There are a few different types and each has a specific purpose. But first, what the heck is an X-ray anyway?


An X-ray is an invisible beam of energy that is absorbed by a dense object - like your teeth - and travels through softer objects - like your gums and cheek. The energy is used to create an image that will show up on a scan with teeth and bone appearing light colored and soft tissue appearing dark. The resulting picture helps our doctors get a deeper look at your teeth we just can’t get with the naked eye. X-rays are a very important tool in diagnosing problems and assessing tooth health.


For new patients, X-rays (also called radiographs) help establish the current state of your oral health and give us a baseline to help identify changes that might occur later on. Subsequent X-rays help us find new cavities, the status of your gum health, and the growth and development of your teeth. We examine the images to determine if a dark spot on a tooth is a potential cavity, check for bone loss, abscess in the gum or root of your teeth, and to spot abnormalities that might be a cyst or tumor.


Radiographs and energy beams? Sounds like science-fiction, right? It’s actually science fact but you might wonder how safe X-rays really are. Dental X-rays are actually very safe and even though they do use a low level of radiation, any harmful effects to the body are small. We also take every precaution to limit your body’s exposure including that heavy apron to help shield your neck, chest and lap from extraneous radiation.


Like we said, there are actually multiple types of X-rays, four in fact, that we use to get that deeper look at your teeth and jawline. Each one will give us a different view of the mouth for the dentist to inspect.




Like the name implies, the patient bites down on a special paper while both sides of your mouth are being imaged. This allows the dentist to see how the crowns of your teeth are lining up and to detect cavities between teeth. This type of X-ray is generally taken every year.




This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the full picture of your teeth, from the top (crown) to the root. It also allows us to get in to see your bicuspids and molars. Often this X-ray is utilized as a follow up to a procedure or to figure out what’s going on if you are having symptoms with a specific tooth.




This X-ray is not taken as often but can show us the roof and floor of your mouth to see how your teeth are lining up and to figure out other problems, like extra teeth, jaw issues and tumor growths. Think of an image of the arc of your teeth looking up or down from inside your mouth.




Again, the name of this X-ray tells you what it does. This is used to take an image of your entire mouth, rotating around your head. This X-ray is used to give us a good picture of the growth and development of your teeth and jaw. Panoramics are also used by an orthodontist for braces and oral surgeons before a procedure.


How often X-rays are taken, depends on the patient. On a child’s stage of development and risk of cavities or developmental abnormalities. Most children don’t get their first x-rays until their first adult tooth erupts - around the age of 6. Thereafter, we usually take cavity detecting x-rays every 1-3 years again depending on cavity risk and stage of development. Developmental x-rays are taken for children typically starting at age 7 and approximately every three years thereafter. 


For adults, we typically take cavity detecting x-rays every 1-2 years. 


Dental X-rays are a vital part of our plan to keep your mouth healthy and can show us things that we just could not find otherwise. If you have questions or concerns about the use of dental X-rays give our office a call at (301) 881-6170. We’d love to talk to you.


We’re easy to talk to and strive to make our office a comfortable, relaxing environment. And we don’t keep our patients waiting. We do our very best to keep to our schedules so you can keep to yours!


EJL Dental

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