Keeping your teeth and gums in good shape is a key part of your overall health. Regular dental visits, for teeth cleanings and an oral exams, help keep your mouth healthy. But what about dental X-rays? Your dentist might not do these on every visit, so how often should you have them done? And what is your dentist actually looking for in your X-rays?

What Does a Dental X-Ray Look For?

A dental X-ray helps your dentist identify a number of problems he or she can’t detect from an oral exam. X-rays can find:

  • Tooth decay
  • Problems with fillings
  • Bone loss caused by gum disease
  • Changes in the bone or root canal
  • Abnormalities such as cysts or tumors

Children and teens also need frequent X-rays. In addition to detecting tooth decay early on, X-rays can also:

  • Ensure permanent teeth are coming in properly
  • Monitor growth of wisdom teeth

With X-rays, your dentist can identify problems and diseases in the early stages. This makes them easier and more affordable to treat. Decay and diseases left untreated can cause further damage to your teeth and gums, and potentially lead to more serious dental diseases, including losing your teeth. The earlier these problems are spotted, the better the outcomes will be.

When to Get Dental X-Rays?

The schedule for dental X-rays varies from patient to patient. It is important to work closely with your dentist to determine the schedule that is right for you. How often you need your teeth X-rayed depends on several factors including:

  • Age
  • Risk of tooth or gum decay
  • Personal dental history

The need for X-rays generally becomes less frequent as we age and our bones stop growing. The exception is for those with high risk for decay or gum disease should be X-rayed more often to monitor any changes.

A dentist will often do a full series of X-rays on new patients to get a complete picture of the patient’s dental health. For existing adult patients without current decay or gum disease, a full series of X-rays is usually done once every 12 to 36 months. Adults at risk for decay or gum disease should have X-rays every 12 to 18 months until the problem is treated. These X-rays might only be on the part of the mouth where the problem occurs.

For existing teen patients, a dentist will generally do X-rays every 18 months to 36 months. For children, 12 to 24 months is a good guideline. As children and teens can be more susceptible to tooth decay, young patients with any decay could be X-rayed as often as every 6 months.

Dental X-rays might also be done in specific cases such as preparing for a dental implant, braces, wisdom teeth extraction, or certain other dental procedures.

Talk With Your Dentist

As with all matters of your oral health, it is important to talk with your dentist. He or she can answer any questions or concerns you might have about dental X-rays. Like brushing, flossing, and regular cleanings, dental X-rays are a necessary step in keeping your teeth and gums in the best health they can be.