If you’ve had a regular dental cleaning before, you’ve probably had dental x-rays taken at the time of your appointment. Sometimes your dentist will have you take a few bitewing x-rays (these will show the side teeth), periapical x-rays (these will show the front teeth) or even full panoramic x-ray (will show all of your teeth).
Typically, dental x-rays are used to determine if there are any issues with your teeth below the gum line, or if there are concerns with “sticky” areas like the start of cavities or for tooth fillings. Depending on your oral health history, some dentists may take dental x-rays at each of your six month checkups, or just one “full series” or panoramic x-ray per year to check on your overall health.
How Often Do You Need to Get X-Rays at the Dentist
If you’re seeing a new dentist for the first time, they will often take dental x-rays at your first cleaning to establish a baseline for your current oral health. Depending on your overall dental health, you may only need dental x-rays once a year or once every couple of years if everything looks healthy and there aren’t issues like bone loss or old fillings to monitor.
But there are other times your dentist may recommend dental x-rays outside of your regular teeth cleaning exams. Here is a general outline of how often you need to get x-rays at the dentist.
When you might have a cavity
During a regular cleaning, your hygienist or dentist might notice a “sticky” spot that indicates the start of a cavity. You might even notice the signs of a cavity before you visit the office (sensitivity to hot and cold, sensitivity to sweet or sugary foods). If the cavity is newly formed, a dental x-ray can verify the presence of the cavity so your dentist can recommend treatment.
Dental x-rays are also helpful with cavities because your dentist can determine if or when you need one replaced. Cleaning the decayed area of a cavity and filling it as soon as possible is paramount to ensuring the health of your teeth in the future.
When have an infection or abscess or when you need root canal treatment
If you notice an infection in your gums, or a small spot that looks like a pimple on your gums, you may have an abscess. An abscess is an infection that can form inside the root of your teeth, in your gums, or even in the bone that holds your teeth in place.
Treating an abscess as quickly as possible is not only important for a healthy smile, it will also likely relieve you of any pain you’re feeling because of the infection. In fact, one of the reasons people are so afraid of getting a root canal isn’t the process itself (which feels similar to a filling), but the pain patients experience before treatment because of the infection. A dentist can tell through a dental x-ray where the infection is located and determine what treatment is needed.
During a dental emergency
If you or your child have had any sort of accident and have hit or broken your teeth, a dental x-ray will be in order to see the amount of damage. Many times when teeth are broken, or there is trauma to the mouth, patients could have breakage below the gum line that can’t be seen without a dental x-ray. Treating this damage right away is important to either saving the tooth impacted by the accident or figuring out if the tooth should be removed.
For kids especially, a dental x-ray after an accident (and likely subsequent follow-up x-rays) can help the dentist determine the best course of action moving forward. Sometimes it’s wise to remove a broken baby tooth long before it’s ready to come out, but the dentist will monitor how the adult tooth is progressing with its eruption. Dental x-rays are a key part of this diagnostic and treatment strategy.
When you have severe gum disease
Some patients with severe gum disease get plaque and tartar build-up well below the gum line. This build-up can lead to bone loss and eventual tooth loss without an ongoing treatment plan. A dental x-ray will be taken to determine the health of the root, and the health of the bone surrounding the tooth. A hygienist may then use this x-ray as they perform regular deep cleanings or scalings to remove the build-up below the gum line.
For patients with severe gum disease, their cleanings may occur every three months in order to restore better dental health. Your dentist may recommend dental x-rays at each of these appointments or every other appointment to track progress.
When you need an implant
If you’re missing one or more teeth and your dentist recommends a dental implant, you’ll need dental x-rays. The x-ray will help determine the condition of the bone and if it will hold an implant. You’ll also likely have a series of dental x-rays in the months after the implant to see how the bone is healing or if there is further bone loss around the implant.
When you need orthodontic treatment
If you’re going to get full orthodontic treatment, your orthodontist will want to take a full series or panoramic dental x-ray before treatment begins. This step is important for several reasons, including to monitor the overall health of your teeth and bones, to see the current position of the roots of your teeth, to find any impacted or soon-to-be erupting teeth, or determine if there are missing teeth.
If your orthodontist notices possible cavities on your x-rays, they’ll likely hold off on treatment until your cavities are filled and teeth restored. Since braces and other orthodontic appliances can add time and effort to your hygiene routine, your orthodontist will want to make sure your teeth and gums are in good health before beginning treatment.
When you need your wisdom teeth removed or if you have impacted teeth
Many patients end up getting their wisdom teeth removed around age 18, usually when the teeth have erupted from the bone, but haven’t yet pierced through the gums. A dental x-ray will help both the dentist and oral surgeon determine the position of the teeth and the extent of work the extractions will require.
Dental x-rays can also determine if teeth are impacted (like wisdom teeth), but this is also a helpful thing to see with younger children who will receive orthodontic treatment. Being able to see the position of the teeth on a dental x-ray will help the orthodontist to determine the correct course of treatment.
Dental x-rays are typically an important part of your ongoing treatment and oral health. Your dentist will determine the appropriate time when you might need “extra” dental x-rays beyond your annual ones. Many insurance companies cover at least one full set or one panoramic x-ray per year. Still others require an x-ray when your dentist will be filling cavities, performing root canal treatment or seating a bridge or crown. A great dentist will be happy to answer any questions you have about your dental x-rays.
Remember: The above information should be used as general guidelines and should not be substituted for medical advice. If you have questions about dental x-ray, you should contact our skilled dentists right away for a dental exam.
Dental X-rays and Teeth Cleanings in Columbus Ohio
Regular teeth cleanings are an important part of maintaining your oral health. If it’s been more than a couple of years since your last dental x-rays, ask your dentist if it is time for an update. Contact us to schedule your next visit!