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Are Dental X-Rays Safe and Needed in Sacramento?

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Dental X-rays
Article By: Soft Touch

Dental x-rays are a regular part of dental appointments. Every dentist uses them to examine the insides of a patient’s mouth, which allows the doctor to get a better idea of the teeth.

Despite being a commonly employed imaging technique in dental care, x-rays, also called radiographs, many people don’t understand the purpose of its use. Most laypeople know that an x-ray is an image used to study the mouth’s interior. Sure, that’s one purpose of a dental x-ray, but there’s more to it than what meets the eye. Because of the different types of imaging, dental x-rays have multiple dimensions that a patient should know.

Learning about dental x-rays is crucial to understanding the dental process that keeps your teeth and gums healthy. With that in mind, Soft Touch Dentistry in Sacramento, California, would like to explain dental x-rays and whether such procedures are needed.

What is a Dental X-Ray?

A dental x-ray is an image of a person’s teeth and gums obtained using low-power radiation at a clinic. It’s a commonly used tool in dentistry that helps a dentist better study a patient’s teeth and spot anything out of the ordinary, such as tooth decay, a cavity, among other things.

Typically radiographs are taken once a year to check a patient’s oral hygiene. However, suppose someone has a problem or is undergoing treatment, such as teeth restoration after an accident. In that case, they may need x-rays more often than once a year.

While adult patients typically need to get their teeth x-rayed yearly, kids need to do that much more often because of their growing teeth. Dentists have to keep an eye on the growth of a child’s teeth as they lose their baby teeth and grow mature teeth because many times, an adult tooth erupts behind a baby tooth that hasn’t fallen off. In that case, surgical intervention is generally needed.

Types of Dental X-Rays

There are two basic types of dental x-rays used to secure the impression of someone’s teeth and jaw on film.

  1. Intraoral
  2. Extraoral

Intraoral X-rays

In intraoral x-rays, film cards are placed inside the mouth to capture a clear teeth picture. They are super-detailed and show every little gap and crack in a person’s teeth.

The primary focus in this type of imaging is the teeth and issues surrounding them. The most commonly used intraoral x-rays are

Periapical Or Wall-Mounted Radiographs

Perhaps the most commonly used form of dental x-rays, wall-mounted radiographs, focus on only one tooth that requires detailed examination. Periapical imaging does not obtain a complete picture of the entire jaw and the teeth.

As suggested by the title, machines used in the said process are mounted on the wall, in every examination room at a dental clinic, like at the Soft Touch Dentistry, Sacramento, California.

To get an image of a person’s teeth, small film cards are inserted into the mouth, and pictures of the targeted tooth are taken.

Occlusal X-Rays

Occlusal x-rays are pretty much like periapical imaging, except they are larger and show the whole tooth from top to bottom down to the inner cavities.

Bite-Wing X-Rays

Unlike periapical radiographs, bite-wing x-rays capture a set of teeth at a time, including the upper and lower section. The image secured from bite-wing scanning shows the crown of the teeth up to the root.

Bite-wing x-rays are used to detect cavities between teeth, an infection, and denture fitting (in case of a restoration procedure). Understandably, they are not as zoomed in as periapical radiographs as they don’t focus on just one tooth.

Extraoral X-rays

The opposite of intraoral, an extraoral x-ray is taken to study the jaw and skull. It does have teeth, but from the outside, which is why it is not used to detect cavities and tooth decay.

Generally, extraoral imaging is used to examine the jaw, its movement, and teeth growth all around your gums. Widely used types of extraoral x-rays include

Panoramic Radiographs

Just like a panoramic picture taken from a camera that shows the complete view before your eyes, a panoramic radiograph captures the entire interior of the mouth. This allows the expert to inspect the whole expanse of a patient’s teeth.

The radiographic film acquired from this type of dental x-raying is a wrap-around image used to study the overall placement of teeth, their alignment relative to one another, and the jaw.

Cephalometric Radiographs

Cephalometric imaging is used when someone’s oral cavity needs to be studied alongside the rest of the head. Simply put, the radiographs acquired from this form of x-raying portray a person’s entire head, typically in a side profile position.

Ceph images are taken with the same machine for panoramic imaging, just with specialized cephalometric films.


Tomogram captures a cross-sectional area of some part of the teeth. It takes a slice of the teeth that require detailed inspection while blurring out the rest of the structures.

It’s a valuable technique for when a cavity or any other dental issue is difficult to see; censoring all the surrounding teeth and singling out the targeted area makes it easy for a dentist to view the affected site.


Sialography refers to the x-raying technique used to examine the salivary glands in the mouth by injecting a dye, aka radiopaque contrast agent. Since salivary tissues are soft, they are not picked up on regular film; therefore, a radiopaque compound is injected to get an image.

Computed Tomography

Computed tomography, commonly known as CT, is a scanning technique that develops the body’s internal systems on film as 3D images. It is typically carried out at hospitals or advanced radiology centers exclusively for testing.

CT is an advanced form of gathering imagery of the internal body used in complicated cases, such as cancer, fracture, etc.

Why Get a Dental X-Ray?

The American Dental Association, along with the FDA, has left the decision of getting a scan for someone’s teeth at the dentist’s discretion. However, some common problems that typically warrant an x-ray include

  • An undetectable cavity. When a cavity is not right in the crown of the teeth and is difficult to view, a doctor may prescribe getting an x-ray.
  • Tooth decay under the fillings done in the past.
  • An infection that affects a tooth’s composition.
  • When getting braces, a root canal, dentures, or implants.
  • A tumor
  • An abscess- a growth at the root of a tooth or between the tooth and gums.
  • Post-treatment healing. A dentist needs to make sure that the procedure they perform on a patient serves its purpose and doesn’t lead to any complications. For this reason, they order dental x-rays for patients.

As mentioned above, children get x-rays done more frequently than adults so that we can monitor the growth of their mature teeth. On top of the regular scanning, a kid may have to get dental radiographs if their teeth develop gaps in between or do not show all the edges.

Other than children, people who are more likely to get x-rays more often than most people include

  • People with gum disease
  • People with a family history of cancer
  • People with a history of tooth decay or any other oral cavity-related problem

Risks Involved When Getting a Dental X-Ray

Although x-raying requires exposure to radiation beams, it is not an inordinately dangerous procedure. That said, like all medical processes, getting dental radiographs comes with some risks, which you cannot escape.

Dangers of Radiation

Securing imagery of your teeth necessitates you to be exposed to radiation beams, as low-strength as they may be. The radiation used in dental x-rays is too little to harm your body directly in just one round. Still, it might do so after multiple sessions.

To give patients a better idea of the volume of radiation used in radiographing, the American College of Radiology released the relevant numbers. According to the fact sheet provided by the radiology authority, every x-ray procedure has a different quantity of radio emissions, so the degree of the risk of damage to one’s teeth also varies.

One of the most commonly used forms of x-ray imaging, bite-wing x-rays, release 0.005 millisieverts when four beams are combined. This means, one ray of radiation used in bite-wing imaging is made of 0.005/4 millisieverts.

Panoramic radiographing is the type of x-ray that emits double the amount of radiation than bite-wing imaging. Since panoramic radiographs capture the whole expanse of a person’s teeth, unsurprisingly, the amount of radiation exposure during this process is twice more than bite-wing x-raying.

As already mentioned, radiation used for dental x-rays is unlikely to harm your body, but it can build up to that. All procedures involving radioactive emissions can have a cumulative effect on a person over the many cycles they go through. In simple words, when an individual is exposed to radioactive beams time and again over a particular period, they might develop ailments such as thyroid cancer.

According to an article by CNN, radiation used for a dental x-ray can lead to thyroid cancer because of the radioactive particles. Moreover, children are more likely to suffer damage from radiation as their cells are in developmental stages and are continuously dividing, which means their growth can be disturbed.

Dangerous for Pregnant Women

While exposure to radioactive beams during a dental x-ray is not inherently dangerous for most people, it can be so for pregnant women.

Expectant mothers have a fetus inside of them that’s constantly growing. Its cells are dividing, which is why if a to-be-mother is exposed to radiation, it may affect the unborn child and lead to abnormalities.

As a general practice, doctors recommend pregnant women stay away from all kinds of radiation or x-rays during their nine months of pregnancy.

Unsuitable for People With a Thyroid Condition

Although there is no concrete evidence to support the mentioned claim, it is advisable for people with thyroid problems to use proper precautions to protect their neck area.

Since radioactive beams are believed to cause thyroid cancer, people with a condition about said gland should be cautious if they need to get an x-ray.

Generally, dentists use a neck bib to cover the area to keep it safe from radiation. However, sometimes a doctor can be careless and leave a patient’s neck exposed to radiation. To avoid such an incident, it’s essential to ask your dentist or radiologist to cover your neck when getting an x-ray, especially if you have a thyroid condition.

Getting A Dental X-Ray: How to Prepare for the Process?

A dental x-ray doesn’t necessitate any particular protocols to be taken as it’s a pretty straightforward and routine procedure. That said, not eating before going for a dental radiograph would be best to ensure accurate results.

Naturally, suppose you get an x-ray with food remnants stuck between your teeth. In that case, the images produced are bound to be unclear, which might conceal the actual issue that needs examination. Therefore, try not to eat anything before going for a dental x-ray.

One sanitary practice would be brushing your teeth before a dental radiograph. Doing so will remove all food particles stuck between your teeth and freshen up your breath.

Recovery After a Dental X-Ray

Even though dental x-rays are categorized as a medical procedure, they do not have a recovery protocol that you need to follow after a radiographing appointment. But, if the images secured from the imaging process show an abnormality or infection, you will have to start necessary treatment as per your dentist’s instructions.

We Can Help!

If you need more information on dental x-rays or any other dental procedure, feel free to reach out to us at Soft Touch Dentistry in Sacramento, California.

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