Are Dental X-Rays Necessary?

Have you ever just said, “are dental x-rays necessary?” Have you ever wondered why x-rays (also called radiographs) are taken at the dental office? Have you ever had these x-rays shown to you with an explanation?

There are many things that become visible with an x-ray; these things are not visible by looking at a tooth in the mouth.

When x-rays are taken at routine visits they are intended to show the areas of a tooth that can not be seen with plain eyesite. The areas in between the teeth cannot be seen, but they are the areas where the most common cavities start. The purpose of looking at these areas routinely is to detect a cavity when it is small, and reduce the size of the filling necessary for repair (you may refer to an earlier post about the cost of dentistry). Once a cavity starts it will just get bigger. Bigger cavities require bigger fillings to fix or, if they get even bigger, they may cause toothaches, the need for root canal treatment and/or a crown (cap) to fix the tooth. In these cases the cavity will cause pain, discomfort, time away from a job, family, and also get into the wallet (which is a different kind of pain). All of this can be avoided by those routine x-rays. It is possible that some people may not need these x-rays as often as others, but everyone should have them periodically. The question you should ask yourself is how thorough do you want your examination to be? If you want 100%, you need to include the x-rays. If you are satisfied with 50% or 80% thoroughness, that is your decision, and you need to accept the responsibility if a problem has gone undetected.

There are x-rays taken when a problem exists, also. When a you experience some unusual pain in a tooth, the cause may not be readily visible. An x-ray will show the entire tooth, top to bottom to get the whole picture. If a tooth has started an infection, many times this infection will be visible at the tip of the root (buried deep in the jaw); this will help in deciding what needs to be done to solve the problem. There are usually a couple of options, and you and your dentist will decide which option is best for you. But your dentist will not know what options to give you without the information from the x-ray.

It may be difficult for you to see what your dentist sees when looking at an x-ray. Don’t let that bother you. Remember that your dentist went to dental school to learn how to interpret these x-rays. And also remember, it is the interpretation of the x-ray that you are paying for, not just the x-ray itself. That’s why you want a dentist’s opinion of a problem (that’s why you seek care from car mechanics, electricians, plumbers, doctors, accountants, and the list goes on and on). Fortunately you do not need to be an expert in every field, you just need to know someone who is.

So, the next time you are asked about taking x-rays of your teeth, remember that they are intended to help you. It will be important to remember that you and your dentist are partners in deciding your dental future. After all, what else can impact your life as much regarding your enjoyment of meals, your conversations, your smile and, don’t forget, your kiss!