How often should dental x-rays be taken?

The American Dental Association (ADA) guidelines give dentists great flexibility in making judgments about the frequency of x-rays. However, the ADA does suggest that patients with recurrent cavities and other complicated problems have x-rays taken once or twice a year. The interval for a person with optimal dental health can safely be two to three years, according to the ADA. Complete x-rays are also standard in preparation for many dental procedures, such as extractions and root planing.

This often depends on your medical and dental history and your current condition. Some people may need x-rays as often as six months; others who don't have any recent dental or gum disease and who visit the dentist regularly may have x-rays only every two years. If you are a new patient, your dentist can take x-rays as part of the initial exam and establish a reference record from which to compare changes that may occur over time. The patient's dental and medical history will determine how often x-rays are needed.

For example, some people may need dental x-rays up to twice a year. However, other patients with healthy gums and teeth may only need x-rays every few years. People who are new patients may have x-rays taken during an initial exam. Gordon Bell uses dental x-rays to get a complete picture of the health of teeth, bones and gums, and to discover small problems before they become major problems.

Dental x-rays help dentists visualize diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissue that cannot be seen with a simple oral exam. To help dentists make these vitally important decisions, professional dental organizations issue general guidelines for when x-rays should be performed. Instead of showing x-ray film in a dark room, the x-rays are sent directly to a computer and can be viewed on the screen, stored, or printed. Dental x-rays, he points out, are needed to identify hidden dental cavities, for example, in areas between teeth or under old fillings and crowns.

The average dental x-ray is estimated to contain about the same amount of radiation that you will absorb from natural sources in a day. In general, the amount of radiation received from dental x-rays is relatively small, especially when compared to radiation received from natural background sources. While some people need x-rays more frequently, current guidelines require that x-rays be performed only when necessary for clinical diagnosis. Each x-ray will expose the patient to a certain amount of radiation, but the amount is small and decreases with each new generation of X-ray equipment.

It may also recommend a delay in x-rays for pregnant or breastfeeding women and limit the frequency of x-rays in very young children. Exposure to all sources of radiation, such as the sun, minerals in the earth, household appliances and dental x-rays, can damage tissues and cells in the body and cause the development of cancer. In addition to minimizing exposure to X-rays, provincial regulations require dental offices to follow certain procedures when taking images, such as placing lead aprons and neck collars for patients.