Dentists can tell a lot from looking at your teeth, but not everything is visible to the naked eye. By taking an x-ray of your mouth, your dentist can get a more complete picture of your teeth, jaws and other structures. This can help them to diagnose problems with greater accuracy and to plan treatments more effectively.
Dental x-rays use a small amount of radiation. If you're worried about how this might affect your body and you want to know if x-rays are safe for you or your children, your dentist will explain what the procedure involves and let you know if it's really necessary.
X-ray machines use radiation to take images of parts of the body that are not normally visible. X-rays are absorbed differently by different structures in the body, so hard tissues such as teeth and bone show up clearly while soft tissues are more transparent.
X-rays are also known as plain radiography. Dentists often use an orthopantomogram (OPG) scan that presents a wide view of the mouth. In some situations, your dentist may recommend other types of radiography such as a computed tomography (CT) scan.
Dentists only use x-rays if they feel they are necessary. They may be used during your comprehensive dental assessment, especially if you have symptoms of a possible oral health problem or if it's been a year or more since your last check-up.
Dental x-rays are often useful for early diagnosis of problems such as:
If you need an x-ray, this may be done at the dental clinic or another facility. Your body will be shielded from unnecessary exposure and you can sit comfortably while the machine takes images of your teeth and jaws. This normally takes less than 15 minutes to complete and you won't feel pain or discomfort.
Frequent exposure to radiation over time can increase the risk of developing health problems such as cancer later in life, but this is unlikely with the low amount of radiation used in dental x-rays. In fact, the radiation involved in a typical x-ray is comparable to what you'd be exposed to on a short flight.
Your dentist will still advise against having multiple x-rays too close together to minimise the possible risk. That's why dentists and radiographers leave the room while x-rays are in use, to avoid unnecessary exposure every day.
Other types of radiography such as CT scans may use more radiation, but this is still within levels considered safe. If you have a dental problem or other health problem that goes undiagnosed because an x-ray wasn't taken, this is likely to cause more harm to your body than the x-ray.
X-ray risks may be slightly higher for young children and unborn foetuses, so dentists will advise against using x-rays for child patients or pregnant women unless strictly necessary. It's still possible to use dental x-rays in these circumstances, but alternatives such as ultrasound may be preferred. You can discuss your concerns with your dentist during your appointment.
If it's time for your regular check-up or you want to talk to a dentist, contact our friendly team at Face Value Dental. We can help you arrange an appointment or give you information about the treatments and technologies at our dental clinic in Brisbane CBD.
 Australian Dental Association. Dental X-rays [Online] 2016 [Accessed October 2018] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Younger-Adults-18-30/Dental-X-Rays
 Healthdirect. X-rays [Online] 2017 [Accessed October 2018] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/x-rays