When are dental x-rays necessary?


The cause and the extent of many dental problems are not immediately obvious to the naked eye. A dentist working without the advantages of an x-ray is like a pilot flying his plane in thick cloud or fog without instruments or radar. In the days before dental x-rays were possible, the dentist had to make an educated guess about the cause of some dental problems. By the time the cause was obvious or visible, the problem was much worse. Today your dentist can use “x-ray” vision to diagnose many difficulties in their early stages, sometimes even before symptoms, like tooth ache, signal that something is wrong. Once a developing problem is identified it can be treated appropriately before it becomes, serious, painful, and costly to repair.


Dental x-rays are essential in the diagnosis and treatment of many causes, for example:

·         Locating the source of pain:

Pointing to the tooth you think is the culprit has not been very useful or successful, in dental diagnosis and is very frustrating for the patient. The problem is, that “there” could prove to be any one of the teeth in the general area or maybe all or none of them. An x-ray will show where the trouble lies, how extensive it is and therefore what should be done about it. Not all these sources of pain are visible to the naked eye. Without x-ray your dentist cannot locate the cause of your distress.

·         Tooth decay:

Decay between teeth, or under old or leaking fillings presents special difficulties. The extent of decay shown on the x-ray will allow your dentist to decide whether the tooth needs filling or only preventive treatment.

·         Gum disease:

Without an x-ray it is very difficult to assess the extent of gum disease. Especially if it has caused bone loss around the teeth

·         Root treatment:

It’s pretty obvious that problems associated with the roots of teeth cannot be examined with the naked eye. In the past your dentist would have diagnosed root problems by a process of elimination of other causes of distress. The treatment of root canals can only be carried out because modern x-ray techniques reveal the root length, the shape of the root canal, and that the canal has been completely filled after treatment. Follow-up x-rays may be necessary to assess whether the healing process is satisfactory.

·         Oral surgery:

Your dentist may decide before extracting a tooth, to x-ray the area for signs of unexpected complications. Surgery is necessary for teeth which are embedded in the gums under, or between, existing teeth, so that there is no space for the new tooth to surface; other teeth develop below the gum surface and for various reasons do not break through it. Crooked teeth, root abnormalities, abnormally shaped teeth, or other abnormal structures may also require surgical treatment. A good example most people are aware of is the infamous third molars or wisdom teeth. The modern dental surgeon will want to have all the information he can get before operating on any one of these conditions. The x-ray provides this so that the necessary procedures can be planned in advance. Your dental surgeon is well prepared to deal with the condition quickly and effectively, and you are spared unnecessary pain and cost.

·         Crowns, bridges and removable dentures:

If these appliances are to fit comfortably, do the job for which they were designed and look good at the same time, it is necessary for your dentist to have a detained picture of the supporting structures so that the appliance can be tailored to your individual requirements. Unforeseen complications can arise if your dentist does not have x-ray photographs to work with.

·         Trauma:

Injury to teeth and jaws can be caused by a blow or a kick as a result of a sporting, motor vehicle or other accident. Under these circumstances an x-ray will be needed to determine the extent of the damage. Follow-up radiographs will also be required to assess healing or detect delayed reaction to the injury.

·         Orthodontic treatment:

Radiographs are necessary diagnostic and for the assessment of growth, to determine the number of teeth and their position, and to detect any abnormalities.



How often do I need x-rays?

The frequency of radiographic examination varies for individual patients, depending on such factors

  • susceptibility to decay

  • presence of oral disease for example gum disease

  • whether the position or growth of teeth needs to be corrected

·         For example, it is recommended that a child who has lived all his life in an area such as Sydney which is serviced by a water supply containing adequate fluoride levels, and who has had regular preventive dentistry, should have 3 x-ray examination; one at 8 to 9 years, a second at 12-13 years, and third at 15 to 16 years.

·         Adult radiographic examination for tooth decay is recommended every two years.

·         Those people living in non-fluoridated water supply areas will probably require more frequent x-ray examinations if dental decay is to be effectively controlled.

·         Your dental heal is affected by several factors and requires individualised and regular attention. Regular preventive treatment by your local dentist may reduce the need for radiographs.