Ask a Dentist

July 2, 2021

Q: What Do I Need To Know About Dental X-Rays?

A dentist looking at a crooked teeth X-Ray.

During your regular checkup and cleanings at our Winnipeg dental clinics, and for some dental treatments, your dentist will recommend X-rays to identify underlying dental conditions for areas of your teeth and mouth they can’t see.

For this reason, it is helpful to know a little bit about X-rays - how safe they are and how they work. Dental X-rays or radiographs can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed by the naked eye, such as damage to the jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth. 

Are Dental X-Rays Harmful?

Simply put, no. According to Image Gently, an organization that monitors and advocates for safe radiology for children around the world, a modern dental office uses machines that emit very little radiation —  less than you would receive from a day in the sun or on a short (1-2 hour) plane ride.  Depending on the type of film and image being taken, it may be as much as a 90% reduction in exposure!  As such, it is safe to say that today's dental X-rays are extremely safe.  At our Dental Image Therapy Centre clinics, we have been using digital x-rays for more than 15 years.  Without these dental X-rays, certain conditions can go undiagnosed, resulting in further damage and more costly treatment.  To keep radiation exposure as low as possible, your dentist will give you a lead apron to wear while they take the bitewings or panoramic images.  

Are you pregnant? Inform your dentist. Research by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists confirmed that dental care, including dental X-rays, is safe during pregnancy. Generally, the benefits of the diagnostic information from an X-ray outweigh the potential risk to a baby, especially since dental professionals take images of the oral cavity and not the abdominal region.  Although the radiation is minimal, it’s important to let your dentist know if you are pregnant so we can answer any questions you may have.

You can also learn more about how often you need dental X-rays in this Ask A Dentist post.

The Dental X-Ray Process

First, a dental professional will cover you with a lead apron to further protect you from radiation. Then, they’ll insert a small apparatus made of plastic into your mouth and you’ll need to bite down on it to hold the X-ray film in place. This is called a bitewing.

Next, the dental professional will proceed to take an X-ray picture of the selected area. This process is pain-free and is repeated until we get all the images needed for a proper dental diagnosis.

A dental X-ray is mainly performed for preventive dental care. This procedure can highlight several dental issues, including infection, dental injuries and tooth decay. It is a helpful tool for creating your dental treatment plan and is used in dental restoration, dental implants or other cosmetic care, and more.

What Kinds Of Dental X-Ray Equipment Exist?

The type of dental X-ray needed depends on the patient’s needs. These are some of the most common types of X-rays performed:

  • Bitewings – This X-ray offers a visual of both the lower and upper back teeth, which helps look for cavities between the back teeth. This type of x-ray is most common and the one you generally get at your checkup and cleanings. It’s the little t-shaped device that you have to bite down on.
  • Periapical – These X-rays provide a view of the roots of the front or back teeth. Each periapical X-ray picture can only look at two or three teeth. 
  • Panoramic – A machine showing a view of your entire mouth - the teeth, jaws, nasal area, sinuses and jaw joints - and is usually taken when a patient needs orthodontic treatment or other issues where an entire view is necessary for treatment planning. It is a great tool for viewing the jaw and wisdom teeth.
  • Occlusal – This method offers a clear view of the mouth’s floor to assist in finding extra teeth or teeth that’s not yet broken through the gum line.

What If I Refuse X-Rays?

Dental X-rays are essential for completing an accurate assessment. Without them, it becomes difficult to diagnose or accurately measure the progression of any underlying dental issues. 

If you’re concerned about radiation exposure, talk with our dental experts at Dental Image Therapy Centres to determine which imaging process fits your needs. Book a consultation with us today at one of our Winnipeg locations (St. Vital Centre and Garden City Shopping Centre).

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