X-rays provide your dentist with a valuable diagnostic tool that helps him or her assess the overall condition of your teeth and their roots, jaw placement, and overall composition of your facial bones. X-rays help your dentist visualize diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissue that cannot be seen with a simple oral examination. X-rays help your dentist find and treat dental problems early in their development, which can potentially save you money, unnecessary discomfort, and maybe even save your life.

Exactly what types of problems can X-rays help detect?

X-rays help your dentist diagnose problems in your teeth and jaws.

In adults, X-ray films can be used to:

  • Show areas of decay that might not be visible with an oral examination, especially small areas of decay between teeth
  • Identify decay occurring beneath an existing filling
  • Reveal bone loss that accompanies gum disease
  • Reveal changes in the bone or in the root canal resulting from infection
  • Assist in the preparation of tooth implants, braces, dentures, or other dental procedures
  • Reveal abscesses (an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth)
  • Reveal other developmental abnormalities, such as cysts and some types of tumors

In children, X-ray films are used to:

  • Watch for decay
  • Determine if there is enough space in the mouth to fit all incoming teeth
  • Determine if primary teeth are being lost quickly enough to allow permanent teeth to erupt properly
  • Check for the development of wisdom teeth and identify if the teeth are impacted (unable to emerge through the gums)

How often should teeth be X-rayed?

The frequency of getting X-rays often depends on your medical and dental history, and current condition. Some people might need X-rays as often as every six months. Others with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit their dentist regularly might get X-rays only every couple of years. If you are a new patient, your dentist might take X-rays as part of the initial examination and to establish a baseline record from which to compare changes that might occur over time.

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