Dental X-rays mark the spot for a number of dental problems that aren’t otherwise in full view to your dentist during an exam.

As a preventive tool, dental X-rays have a number of benefits. But do you need X-rays every time you visit the dentist?

X-rays: Tradition vs. Necessity

A recent New York Times article about dental X-rays notes that many dentists conduct radiographs as a standard part of regular checkups, and that many patients and their insurance companies accept them as routine preventive measures.

dental x-ray

The article also points out that adults who engage in proper dental care, don’t show signs of dental problems, and aren’t at risk for oral health problems don’t need X-rays every year. In its dental radiograph recommendations, the American Dental Association advises traditional bitewing X-rays every 18 to 36 months, depending on age and risk factors.

Your dentist may recommend more frequent X-rays if your teeth show signs of decay, or your gums indicate periodontal disease. X-rays may also be recommended if you had prior dental problems that require follow-up, or if you have an individual risk for particular oral health problems; for example, if you have a history of cavities, your dentist may suggest annual X-rays to monitor for signs of decay in your healthy teeth.

X-rays and Radiation Concerns

Any exposure to radiation has risks, but dental X-rays, according to sources cited in the New York Times article, account for less than 3 percent of the medical radiation the average person receives. Digital dental X-rays also use low-dose radiation, compared with other widely employed medical imaging devices such as cone-beam CT scans.

There is some evidence that regular X-rays can contribute to meningiomas, tumors that are typically noncancerous but can cause problems as they grow. Research indicates that women face a higher risk for meningiomas, and a 1985 study suggests that the presence of meningiomas may be explained in part by excessive exposure to dental X-rays beginning at a young age.

More recently, the findings of a 2012 study link dental X-rays with an increased risk for meningiomas; that research implies the earlier people receive their first X-ray, the greater their chance for developing meningiomas. However, as an Economist article on that study states, the risk for developing these tumors from dental X-rays is small (the actual number is not known because not all meningiomas are caused by X-rays or radiation, but the article observes that in developed nations, meningiomas may affect between 5 and 10 of every 200,000 people).

Benefits of X-rays

While most people don’t need an X-ray every year, X-rays also have benefits and are not something to fear.

X-rays help your dentist detect early signs of tooth decay and gum disease. They show the position of your teeth below the gum line, which allows your dentist to assess for bite conditions and other problems that aren’t visible to the naked eye. As a preventive measure, X-rays can help ensure you’re able to treat any problems at their earliest stages.

X-rays, in conjunction with other types of imaging, also play critical roles in cosmetic dentistry and restorative dentistry treatments. They help provide a complete picture of your mouth so your dentist can create a custom treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.

The dentists at Smile Columbia Dentistry understand the link between your oral health and your overall well-being, and we’re committed to helping patients maintain bright, healthy smiles for life. If you live in Columbia, SC, and are due for an exam and teeth cleaning, or if you’re considering cosmetic dentistry to improve the appearance of your smile, please call us today at (803) 791-9090.