Why are dental x-rays important?

Dental X-rays give insight into some of the most elusive dental health issues to the naked eye. Using digital radiography can not only diagnose problems, but also develop treatment plans. Dental radiography is an irreplaceable diagnostic tool. Dental x-rays show issues like tooth decay, misalignment, soft tissue damage, and periodontal disease that escape visual detection. Children generally need regular x-rays to check on the progress of budding teeth and orthodontia, while most adults get x-rays infrequently. However, if you smoke, have periodontal disease, orthodontia, or chronic dry mouth, you may need more regular imaging.

What is a dental x-ray?

An x-ray uses energy in wave-form, similar to light waves. In fact, the only difference between light and x-rays is that light doesn’t have enough energy to travel through the human body, while x-rays do. Both forms of energy, however, can make an image on photographic film and are used to take pictures.

Diagnostic Dental X-rays

Your dental X-rays can tell a significant story about your dental health. In most cases, dental X-rays help Dr. Fondriest discover tooth decay hidden beneath the surface or too difficult to see with the naked eye. X-ray images can also show cavities or tiny tooth cracks beneath dental restorations. In addition, we can see areas of jawbone damage from abscess, gum disease, dental injury, or tooth loss. Dental X-rays are also helpful for pinpointing signs of oral cancer.

Types of dental radiography


The most common type of dental x-rays are called bitewing x-rays. You’ve probably had at least one of these – do you remember biting down on the film holder? This view allows your dentist to see all of your teeth in a panorama, and is very effective for finding tooth decay. X-rays taken from different angles may concentrate on just a few teeth, or on gums and other soft tissues.

CT scans

If you are getting implants or certain kinds of surgery (like wisdom teeth extraction), you may need a computerized tomography (CT) scan. Digital CT scans take images from every angle to create a 3D image of your jaws and teeth; this image is used by surgeons and restorative dentists who work with Dr. Fondriest. You might also need a CT scan if you have advanced periodontal disease or other oral conditions that have caused bone loss.

Radiation dosage of dental radiography

While no ionizing radiation is completely safe, dental radiography exposes you to about as much radiation as a flight from coast to coast. You are normally exposed to twice as much ionizing radiation every day; sources include cosmic radiation from stellar bodies, coal-fired power plants, computer monitors, and even bananas. Medical imaging accounts for 15% or more of the total radiation dose you receive in a year.

Are dental X-rays safe?

Our patients are informed

We understand that the modern dental patient is informed, armed with questions, and concerned with safety. Digital X-rays use up to 80 percent less radiation than the already tiny amounts in traditional X-rays. In addition, our digital X-rays are immediately available on a computer screen. No more waiting for processing or using harmful chemicals to develop the film.

Advancements in technology

Radiography for dentistry has made several advancements in techniques and technology to offer patients increased safety with dental X-rays. For instance, dental X-rays expose as little radiation as possible with a tiny, localized beam less than three inches in diameter. Dental X-ray machinery has also been developed to release the least amount of stray radiation possible. In fact, lead aprons which are used to protect patients from stray radiation are mostly beneficial for patient peace of mind since the stray radiation from modern dental X-rays is almost non-existent.

Faster film and film holders help make the process more accurate and quicker so that there are fewer repeat X-rays. Other safety measures include state guidelines which require the dental practice to have machinery inspected and the dentist’s operating license renewed every two years. Digital radiography offers 80 percent less radiation than traditional X-rays.

What is a rem?

This kind of rem is not the kind used when talking about sleep cycles or an awesome 80s band. It is a large unit of measurement used to measure radiation. Usually, the unit milllirem (mrem) is used. It takes 1000 mrem to equal 1 rem.

How often should I get a dental X-ray?

Our Chicago dentist usually takes X-ray images of your teeth annually to ensure your optimal oral health. In other instances, X-rays may be used more frequently for diagnosis, procedure candidacy, and checking for progression of disease or cancer. For example, if you smoke or have a history of periodontal disease, you are more susceptible to jawbone deterioration. Dr. Fondriest may suggest more frequent dental X-rays to determine the level of bone loss and which treatments can help restore healthy bone. For patients who have had restorative dentistry like fillings or crowns, periodic checks for further decay underneath the restoration may be necessary.

What else should you know about dental x-rays?

Advances in technology allow Dr. Fondriest to obtain a good x-ray image using much less radiation than what was once required. Typically, a dental x-ray will only expose you to about 2 or 3 mrem, making it an effective and safe aid for diagnosing any oral conditions or problems with your teeth or gums. The National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP) reports that the average U.S. resident absorbs about 360 mrem every year from background sources of radiation from space, radioactive materials in the earth, and small amounts of radioactive material in food, in addition to the radiation we absorb from other sources, including smoke detectors, living in a brick house, cooking with natural gas, reading books, and flying in an airplane.

Why they are so important

X-rays are part of most routine dental exams, but many patients cringes at the thought of exposing themselves to radiation. Dental x-rays are an important tool your dentist uses to help you maintain quality oral health, and most dentists and other medical professionals consider x-rays a crucial component of patient care. To determine if radiation from x-rays is harmful, we need to first understand what an x-ray is.

Next time you’re at the dentist, don’t hesitate when your doctor calls for an x-ray. Dr. James Fondriest, a dentist in Lake Forest, Illinois, partially relies on x-rays to keep your mouth healthy by catching oral conditions in the earliest stages. If you’re due for a dental exam and cleaning, call us at (847) 234-0517.