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What’s the Point of Dental X-rays?

You brush and floss twice a day, just as you should. You use an antiseptic mouthwash. You visit your dentist every six months for professional cleanings and examinations. You may even receive fluoride treatments. Why, then, does your dentist also perform dental x-rays?

The fact is that dental x-rays, or radiographs, are an invaluable tool for catching and diagnosing many types of dental problems. Their use is recommended by the American Dental Association and is standard practice among dentists in the United States. Here are some problems that can be detected through dental x-rays and treated before they become worse.


Many times cavities, also called dental caries, are readily visible to your hygienist or dentist during your biannual exam. However, cavities can also sometimes be difficult to see, particularly if they’re on the sides of your teeth or near the gum line. This in where dental x-rays come in.

A cavity will show up on x-ray even if it can’t be seen with the naked eye. Once a cavity is detected, it can be filled before it grows larger or begins to cause pain.

Bone loss

If you have periodontal disease, also called gum disease, there can be a lot of destruction going on below the surface of your gums. This includes bone loss, which can ultimately result in tooth loss as the teeth loosen from their anchor points in your jaws. X-rays are a great tool to assess for bone loss.

Gum disease isn’t the only potential cause of bone loss, though. Lesions, cysts, and tumors can also be present in the jaws and can destroy bone. Once again, these are usually detectable on dental x-rays and measures can then be taken to correct the problem.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are extra molars that usually erupt in late adolescence or early adulthood. Unfortunately, their arrival can be problematic as there is often no room in your mouth to accommodate them. If they’re not removed, they can push other teeth out of alignment and cause great pain.

Dental x-rays can clearly show the presence of wisdom teeth long before they erupt through the gums. That way, plans can be made to have them removed before they cause a problem.


Almost no one is born with a perfect smile. Small malalignments in the bite are almost always present and can grow overtime. Dental x-rays are used to check bite alignment to see if braces or other orthodontics are necessary to correct the bite. This is especially important for children and young teenagers.


Of course, medical and dental x-rays use radiation and some people naturally have concerns about that. The good news is that only a very small amount of radiation is used. In fact, the average person receives many hundreds of times more radiation from the environment each year than they get from a dental x-ray.

Furthermore, you will be protected with shielding, such as a lead apron, during your x-ray, so that other parts of your body aren’t exposed. Even so, if you are pregnant or might be pregnant, you should always let your hygienist or dentist know before your x-ray.

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