When Are X-Rays Necessary? Who Needs X-Rays More or Less Often? What About X-Rays and Children?

We’ve been talking a lot about x-rays recently. We’ve covered the types of x-rays and x-ray safety.

By now, you should know the three major types of x-rays: intraoral, extraoral, and panoramic. You should also know that dental x-rays are extremely safe and are constantly being made safer through lower x-ray radiation levels, better film, and improved processes.

Now, let’s talk about how often you should have dental x-rays—when are dental x-rays necessary?

Some people need x-rays as often as every six months for their proper dental treatment and maintenance. Others… only three years for theirs.

The key word being… their / theirs (dental treatment).

Each person has their own unique, dental, situation. Thus, they also have their own, individual, ideal dental treatment plan. This includes how often they will need dental x-rays.

Of course, there are some commonalities among those who will need x-rays more often than others:

Children and teenagers

Kids and adolescents simply have more cavities than other ages. X-rays also help to keep track of how the teeth are coming in and developing

Adults with dental work such as fillings, crowns, bridges, restorations and implants

X-rays allow your dentist to see below your teeth—to areas of concern his or her eyes can’t see – to identify issues and treat any necessary problems as quickly as possible.

Those with gum disease

X-rays can show when bone is being lost. Since this may require gum surgery for treatment, it’s advisable to be aware of this as soon as possible.

Sufferers of excessive dry mouth

There is a name for this—it’s called xerostomia. Saliva helps keep your mouth and teeth in their best shape by regulating pH. If your mouth is overly dry – such as due to medicines, medical treatments, heredity, or other factors – pH is lowered significantly. This increases the likelihood of getting more cavities and so x-rays are recommended more frequently.

Smokers and tobacco users

Since both smoking and smokeless tobacco carry dental risks – such as increased risk of bone loss and gum disease for smokers and more cavities for smokeless tobacco users – those who use either will need to have more frequent x-ray monitoring.

Aren’t such frequent x-rays not a good idea for kids and teens?

As we talked about in our last article, dental x-rays are very safe these days. Yet, we also mentioned that usage should be minimized when possible. So if kids need more frequent dental x-rays based on the information above, does that put them in danger?

Aside from the recent advances that make dental x-rays safer than ever, this is even more true regarding children. In 2012, the American Dental Association (ADA) released new guidelines regarding x-rays and children and that’s what wise dentists use to make decisions.

Smart and conscientious dentists don’t make blanket decisions regarding how often anyone – but especially children – will get x-rays. Even though children do sometimes require more frequent dental x-rays, that choice will always be based on the need for dental x-rays to protect or preserve the child’s dental health.

According to the ADA and as listed on Colgate.com, here are some specific times when your dentist might decide x-rays are warranted and necessary:

  • To look for dental anomalies
  • See cavities in areas that can’t be seen with the eye—between and on the back or under side of teeth
  • Look at previous endodontic treatments
  • Evaluate swelling or injury
  • Evaluate health of tooth bone
  • Look at tooth development and growth
  • Look at unerupted or missing teeth
  • Check for bone loss
  • See if teeth are impacted or coming in wrong

Thus, as you can see, the only time we will call for x-rays is when they are needed to ensure you or your child’s dental health—when the benefit of the x-ray outweighs the even minuscule risks. And since safety and health is what we are all concerned with, you can rest easy that you and your child will always be protected in our hands.

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