How often do I need to have dental x-rays?

Rita Medwid

When you see a dentist for the first time, he or she will want to examine recent x-rays to get a baseline of your present condition. This is almost like a Blood pressure reading and pulse that your medical doctor uses to help diagnosis your health. If you had a full set of x-rays taken within the last three years, the dentist can ask the previous dentist for them. Most people have a full series taken every three to five years, because their insurance allows it. As well as bitewings (taken with teeth together side view), once a year. Unfortunately, many people want the insurance company to dictate their care. People more prone to gum disease and decay should have them taken more often, or at least once a year. It is best to go by your dentist's recommendation. 

How often x-rays should be taken depends on your present oral health, your age, your risk for disease, and any signs and symptoms of oral disease. For example, children may require x-rays more often because their teeth and jaws are still developing and their teeth are more likely to be affected by tooth decay than those of adults. Your dentist will review your history, examine your mouth and then decide whether or not you need x-rays.

If you are a new patient, the dentist may recommend x-rays to determine the present status of your oral health and to help identify changes that may occur later. A new set of x-rays may be needed to help your dentist detect any new cavities, determine the status of your gum health or evaluate the growth and development of your teeth. If a previous dentist has any radiographs of you, your new dentist may ask you for copies of them. Ask both dentists to help you with forwarding your x-rays.

If you are pregnant, tell your dentist. During your pregnancy, you may need to have x-rays taken as part of your treatment plan for a dental disease that requires immediate attention. Use of the leaded apron and collar will protect you and your fetus from radiation exposure. Dental x-rays do not need to be delayed if you are trying to become pregnant or are breast feeding.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that an adult without any special risk of decay have x-rays performed every 2-3 years. Children and adults with increased risk of decay should have them done more frequently. A dentist often performs additional x-rays when he or she is concerned about a particular area of the mouth.
Dental radiographs are an essential diagnostic tool for evaluation of your oral health. Even with a thorough visual clinical examination there may be conditions that can only be detected with radiographs. Radiographs are important for diagnosis of decay, periodontal disease, impacted teeth, missing teeth, endodontic problems, cysts, growths and many other abnormalities.

Usually a complete series of oral radiographs, or the equivalent, is indicated when you start with a new dentist. Depending on when previous radiographs were taken, this may be postponed if previous radiographic series can be transferred from your last dentist. Also depending on the condition of your teeth periodic cavity-detecting radiographs are usually indicated every one to two years. Although dentists, just as patients, want to minimize patient radiation exposure, the frequency with which radiographs are advised may vary depending on the condition of the patient's teeth including decay, frequency of decay detected and periodontal disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.