Most of us have no problems going to the dentist twice a year to get our cleaning and checkup. After all, it makes sense to have an exam and dental cleaning every six months to prevent cavities and gum disease from occurring. But what about dental X-rays? Do you really need to take X-rays every six months? Can dental problems really come up that quickly to justify taking X-rays every 6 months? Or is it better to take dental X-rays just once a year on every other checkup?
Are dental X-rays dangerous?
Dental X-rays are actually very safe. Standard dental X-rays have very, very low levels of radiation and are extremely safe. To put it in perspective, each individual dental X-ray has about the equivalent of 15 to 20 minutes of daily radiation exposure. In other words, taking each X-ray makes you 15 minutes older in terms of radiation exposure. Digital X-rays are actually even safer and expose you to less radiation than do traditional X-rays. To put it in better perspective, a single chest X-ray contains 10,000 times as much radiation exposure as an individual dental X-ray does. So don’t worry too much about dental X-rays and let your dentist take the required X-rays to prevent more complicated problems in the future. The wise way to reduce your radiation exposure is to stick with the same dentist long term, this way you don’t have to take a full set of X-rays each time you switch dentists!
Advantages of taking dental X-rays every 6 months
It is routine to take X-rays during your 6 month exam and checkup appointment. Most dental insurance plans allow checkup X-rays every 6 months, because it lets your dentist catch cavities before they get larger. Here are some other benefits of taking frequent X-rays of your teeth:
New dental problems can occur in as little as just a few months
New cavities can develop within just a few months. There is always the chance that a new or recurring cavity starts to show up on your X-rays within as little as six months. Your dentist wants to catch this cavity before it has a chance to hit your nerves and develop into an infection. As a result, the sooner he or she catches the cavity, the better your chances of avoiding a crown, root canal or dental implant! Taking regular X-rays helps your dentist detect dental problems early on and treat them in their earlier stages. This lets your receive more conservative treatment and ultimately benefits you.
High risk individuals can develop dental problems rapidly
Individuals with high risk can easily develop a new dental problem in six months or even less. Taking X-rays every 6 months helps detect these problems in their earlier stages, before they have had a chance to become painful!
- If you aren’t brushing or flossing as well as you should, if you consume too much sugars or if you have other conditions that place you at increased risk of developing dental problems, then you should take X-rays every 6 months.
- Individuals with lots of existing dental work in their mouths are much more susceptible to recurrent cavities. Cavities can from under existing dental work and cause root canals or broken teeth in just a few months. It is highly recommended to take X-rays every 6 months if you have lots of existing dental work.
- Those with advanced stages of gum disease have large gaps between their teeth which makes them much more susceptible to developing dental problems. Taking X-rays every 6 months allows your dentist to look for cavities as well as monitor your gum disease over time.
For children and teenagers, dentists usually recommend X-rays every six months. Children tend to consume more sugary products, are not as compliant with brushing and flossing and tend to have more difficulty due to their growing jaws and mixed baby and adult teeth. In fact, even every 6 months may be too long for some children and new problems come up in this short time period. Generally speaking, anyone who is considered to be a medium to high risk patient should take X-rays every six months.
Bigger treatments typically require more radiation exposure
A dental filling doesn’t usually require taking any additional X-rays. On the other hand, crowns, root canals, tooth extractions and dental implants typically require multiple additional X-rays. In fact, to receive a single root canal or dental implant you require a Panoramic X-ray which has much more radiation than your typical dental X-rays does. If your objective is to minimize your exposure to radiation, all your efforts are going to be a wash should you end up with a single root canal or tooth extraction! Take your regular X-rays, it will spare you the additional radiation, and it will cost you much less!