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A Clearer View: Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

There are few things as predictable in life as going to your semi-annual checkup at the dentist office. It's almost always the same, every six months: fill out some paperwork, then head back to the exam room for X-rays, a cleaning and finally your exam with the dentist. You know the cleaning is important, as is the exam, but what about those X-rays? Are they really necessary, and if they are necessary, how safe are they?

Why We Take X-rays

There are several reasons we take dental X-rays. First, we want to make sure the whole tooth is healthy. Because only part of your tooth is exposed, it can be difficult to tell if something is wrong at the root of the teeth. In children, X-rays can be helpful in showing the forming adult teeth below the gum surface. We can use X-rays to tell if your child’s teeth will come in straight, crooked or even crowded. This can help you plan for future expenses like braces, even if your child is only 2 or 3 and won’t be needing braces for a long time.

X-rays can also help your dentist see underneath fillings and between your teeth, where hidden cavities and decay may be lurking. This allows us to avoid unnecessary repairs, and to replace or create new fillings when needed, before cavities worsen, causing you unnecessary pain or tooth loss.

Are X-rays Safe?

Short answer? Yes! X-ray technology has come a long way since it first emerged in 1895! Today’s X-ray machines emit lower levels of radiation than earlier machines, and many newer machines are able to take X-rays faster and more in-depth than machines of the past. That being said, despite these machines become increasingly safer, we still take the same precautions we always have when taking X-rays, including protecting the organs with lead aprons during your session.

For children, we often take fewer X-rays because not only are their mouths smaller, but many younger children also may not sit still for as many photos as older patients. This still gives us a detailed glimpse into your child’s bone structure, and can alert us to any problems.

For children under the age of 3, your insurance provider may not authorize any X-rays at all unless there is a suspected problem. For example, children who are missing baby teeth may also be missing the same adult tooth. Though the child may not qualify for X-rays as part of their exam, an insurance company may cover a single X-ray of that area of the jaw to determine if an adult tooth is present.

How Often Do I Need X-rays?

The frequency of dental X-rays depends on the patient. If your mouth is in good health, you may only need X-rays once a year. For patients with bone loss due to periodontitis or other issues, X-rays may be required more often, such as every six months. Children with healthy teeth may only require X-rays once every few years. Ultimately, it may come down to what your dental insurance covers, and what you are willing to pay out of pocket. Most dental plans cover one set of X-rays per year for healthy patients, so make sure you take advantage of this benefit if your plan allows it!

If you still have questions about X-rays, or are ready to set up your next exam, give Dr. Hill’s office a call at 469-640-9550.

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