A Patient’s Guide to Dental X-rays

Posted by John Lee - May 16, 2016 - Uncategorized - No Comments

Many routine dental appointments begin much the same. A hygienist guides you from the waiting room back into the main office.  From there, you may go to an X-ray room.

Once in the room, you take a seat and the hygienist places a specialized apron on your lap and chest. The hygienist may place foam inserts in your mouth and have you bite down while the X-ray captures the image of your teeth.

Hundreds of patients undergo this process in a given day. But some patients find themselves wondering if there are things they should know about dental X-rays that they don't already.

In this blog, we answer common questions our patients have about this routine process, its uses, and its effects. 

How Do X-Rays Work?

When you have X-rays taken, the technician uses a piece of equipment to direct a specific kind of lowlevel radiation toward your mouth and teeth. This radiation, which comes in the form of X-rays, creates a clear image of your teeth, jaw bone, and soft oral tissues. This image is known as a radiograph.

Your teeth and bones appear more solid in the final image because they absorb more of the X-rays, while your gums and tongue appear more shadowy. Abnormalities in the mouth may appear darker and more solid than your teeth because they absorb X-rays differently, making them highly visible to the trained eye.

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

When you hear the word "radiation," you may immediately wonder about your personal safety. While it's true that large amounts of radiation can damage cellular structures, the amount of radiation you're exposed to during an X-ray is small. If your dentist's office uses digital X-rays, the amount is even smaller.

Radiation comes in many forms and intensities. You also experience radiation exposure just from walking in the sun or standing close to certain appliances. Dental X-rays do not pose a health risk for most people.

However, some individuals experience higher risks of health issues related to radiation exposure than others. Dentists may decide to forego X-rays if a patient's history suggests that dental X-rays could damage a patient's health.

Individuals with the following characteristics may want to minimize their X-ray exposure:

  • Current pregnancy
  • Current or recent attempts to become pregnant
  • Ongoing bone and tissue development

Because X-rays affect each person differently, it's important to give your dentist a full and complete medical history.

To minimize the effects of X-ray radiation, your dentist's office uses lead aprons and specialized facilities to prevent the parts of your body not being X-rayed from coming in contact with the radiation.

Why Are Dental X-Rays Used?

In almost every case, the uses and benefits of X-rays far outweigh the risks. A single radiographic image can give your dentist essential information about the health and structural integrity of your teeth.

Your dentist uses X-rays to look for the following:

  • Abscesses
  • Dental cysts
  • Dental tumors
  • Hidden dental decay
  • Localized infection
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tooth and bone loss

One or two X-rays each year during your six-month exams is all your dentist needs in most cases.


If you have concerns about X-rays not addressed in this blog, bring them up the next time you take a trip to your dentist's office. Your dentist has specific training that allows him or her to assess any risk associated with X-rays and make decisions.

Keep this information in mind next time you sit down to have X-rays taken. And if your general health or risk factors for radiation issues have changed, let him or her know.

For more information on oral health, dental procedures, and dental emergencies, browse our blog.