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X-rays are a vital part of dentistry. They help us see potential problems we can’t catch with a traditional exam and help us monitor the growth and development of young patients. You should expect dental X-rays to be part of your preventive care and treatment routines. However, you don’t need them at every visit and may need them less frequently than you think. When we plan dental X-rays for adults and children, we combine our professional expertise and your oral health dentistry with the guiding principle in medicine and dentistry that calls us to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. The result is a balanced approach that keeps your health and safety in mind while letting us see what we need to see.
Why Are Dental X-rays Necessary?
Dental radiography is an essential tool for detecting cavities, gum disease and other oral health problems. It’s also necessary to check tooth and jaw development in children and teens, helping us identify crowding, spacing and other orthodontic issues. When you see your family dentist, a traditional clinical exam is usually the first step. It gives us the overall picture of what’s going on with your teeth and gums. At many visits, an oral exam is all we need. However, sometimes we require images to get a complete picture. For example, cavities that form between the teeth can be challenging to spot with a traditional exam. Some reasons we might be more likely to order radiography include the following:
- Previous dental treatments, including fillings
- Family history of oral health problems
- Checking on healing after oral surgery or following up after a dental restoration
- Evidence of gum disease after a standard exam
- Evidence of significant cavitiesDental or facial injury or trauma
- Issues with growth, spacing, or movement of teeth
How Often Should Adults and Children Get Dental X-rays?
How often your family dentist recommends X-rays depends on your oral health history and age. Your dentist will use his professional expertise at each visit to determine what each patient needs. We may order imaging more frequently for patients with a history of gum disease or tooth decay and those with crowns, implants or other restorative work we need to monitor.
If you’re a new patient, we start with essential images to establish an oral health baseline. The ADA and FDA have established guidelines for returning patients while relying on family dentists’ judgment on a case-by-case basis. In general, we recommend X-rays:
- Every 6 to 12 months in children and 6 to 18 months in adults for patients with a history of cavities.
- Every 12 to 24 months in children and 24 to 36 months in adults with no history of cavities and low risk for tooth decay.
- You can rely on the dentist’s professional judgment for other issues, including gum disease and monitoring the growth and development of the teeth and jaw in children and adolescents. We may recommend more frequent radiography for patients with oral health or orthodontic conditions.
Is Radiation Exposure a Concern For Dental Patients?
Radiation exposure from dental X-rays is a small fraction of the total levels we encounter from sources including soil, radon, and other medical scans. However, we always want to minimize exposure and avoid unnecessary risk. As dental and medical professionals, we follow the ALARA principle recommended by the American Dental Association and other medical groups. ALARA means using radiography “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” to get needed information while reducing exposure. The ADA has also launched its Image Gently campaign to tailor X-rays in children to individual needs. Image Gently aims to reduce exposure by limiting exposure time, targeting only specific areas of interest, and always using a shield to protect the thyroid.
Your Family Dentist Has Your Best Interest at Heart
Making the best decisions for yourself and your children regarding diagnostic techniques can be challenging. One of the best ways to know you’re doing the right thing is to establish a relationship with a family dentist you know and trust. With nearly four decades of experience and following professional guidelines, Dr. Robert Hall has developed a keen sense of when we do and don’t need X-rays. Dr. Hall also gets to know each patient individually, considering your oral and overall health history. Dr. Hall embraces dialog with new and returning patients and is happy to talk with you about setting your personalized scan schedule. We’ll ensure we get the information needed to provide excellent care while honoring patients’ desire to avoid unnecessary exposure.