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What are dental x-rays and are they safe?

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There can be a lot going on inside your mouth, a lot of which is not always visible to the naked eye. During your routine dental examination appointments, your dental practitioner may recommend to take dental x-rays to have a better idea of what is happening overall.

Dental x-rays, also known as radiographs are pictures of your teeth that can provide valuable information about the inner layers of your teeth and its surrounding structures.

Depending on the type of x-ray, these radiographs can provide an array of information including:

  • – Presence of decay (cavities) including small areas of early decay in between teeth not visible during clinical examinations
  • – Size and proximity of decay to the nerve of the tooth
  • – Integrity of existing fillings, root canal treatment, implants as well as old crown and bridgework
  • – Existing bone levels and areas of bone loss
  • – Presence of interdental subgingival calculus (build-up of tartar underneath your gums)
  • – Presence of tooth infection or dental abscesses
  • – Injuries to the teeth or jaws
  • – Presence of extra teeth or absence of missing teeth
  • – Dental cysts and tumours in the jaw bone
  • – Show problems of tooth/root fractures and bone fractures
  • – Number of teeth present including the presence of wisdom teeth and whether they are in the right orientation
  • – Proximity of roots to the sinuses and presence of sinus infection
  • – Temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) abnormalities
  • – Amount of bone needed for dental implants


Why do dental x-rays need to be taken?

Even if you attend regular dental check-ups every 6-12 months, clinical examinations are not enough. This is because your dentist or oral health therapist is unable to see every nook and cranny of your teeth, particularly the spaces in between or underneath any old fillings (we wish we had x-ray vision!). Therefore, without routine dental x-rays it can be hard to say with 100% certainty that there are no areas of concern.

Thanks to advancements in technology, dental x-rays are safe and take almost no time at all to take (literally a few seconds). Routine radiographs are therefore excellent diagnostic tools to help us see things before they become a problem. Early detection of dental problems such as dental decay allows for far better outcomes. This could include:

  • – Preventing smaller areas of decay from growing: not all carious lesions need to be drilled and filled. By detecting early signs of decay in between your teeth, we are able to recommend preventative options including switching to a stronger fluoride toothpaste or incorporating fluoride treatments to strengthen those areas.
  • – Smaller fillings: Smaller fillings often means that less tooth structure is removed in the process. This can result in a longer-lasting filling and less need for replacement or re-treatment in the future. Larger, more complex fillings have shown to have a higher rate of failure and risk of requiring further treatment in the future.
  • Treating the decay before it reaches the nerve of the tooth: By the time you can feel or see a hole with the naked eye, it often means that a simple filing may not be enough. Dental decay that is identified too late often ends up needing root canal treatment or extraction. This can be time consuming and a burden financially.


Are they dental x-rays safe?

Dental x-rays are safe for children as well as adults of all ages. Of course, as with any x-ray, there is a small amount of radiation. The amount of radiation involved is extremely low and is equivalent to the sort of exposure you’d receive spending 30 minutes in the sun or on a 1–2-hour flight (depending on the x-ray). This means that even if you’re pregnant you can have x-rays taken (although they are generally kept to a minimum during this period)

Although dental x-rays are important diagnostic tools, it is important to note that they are not taken at every appointment. The decision to take a dental x-ray, and the type of X-ray taken, will be influenced by factors such as your past and present oral health. A clinical examination of your mouth, age, and disease risk influence whether we should take x-rays or not.


What are the different types of dental x-rays?





Bitewing radiographs are extremely useful in detecting cavities or decay in between the back teeth. This is because your back teeth are normally more at risk of developing cavities. These radiographs do not show the whole tooth structure because they are aimed at providing information about the spaces in between our teeth. Bitewing x-rays can also highlight any problems underneath existing dental fillings and areas of heavy plaque deposits (calculus or tartar) under the gums.


Periapical (PA)



Periapical x-rays are often taken to look at the whole length of specific isolated teeth. They can help identify signs of decay, infection at the root (abscesses), bony defects and crown or root fractures. Due to the nature of periapical x-rays only showing specific teeth, they are often taken at emergency appointments to have a closer look at the problem area.




Orthopantomograph’s (or OPG for short) are radiographs that look at the whole jaw and are most commonly taken to assess for the presence of wisdom teeth and whether they need to be removed. The proximity of the roots of your wisdom teeth to the nerve structures that run through the lower jaw (inferior-alveolar nerve) is another important assessment that is considered when looking at wisdom teeth removal.


OPG’s also provide a lot of information about the anatomy of both the upper and lower jaw bones and are used to assess the health of the bone surrounding the teeth. OPG’s are therefore very useful for patients who have periodontal disease.


They can also be taken for children to assess overall development and identify whether a child has the correct number of developing teeth. The presence of extra teeth or absence of teeth is common and can dictate whether a child may need to see an orthodontist later in life. At True Smiles Dental, OPG’s also allow us to assess the nasal region and whether a child may be susceptible to sleep and airway issues.


OPG’s are also important diagnostic tools to assess for the presence of any dental cysts and tumours. Although rare, jaw bone abnormalities do occur and routine OPG’s can help to save a life.


Do children need dental x-rays and are they safe?


Yes! Dental x-rays are safe for children. At True Smiles Dental, we will often recommend radiographs for children for specific reasons. The most common reason dental x-rays are taken for children are to assess for the presence of dental decay in between the teeth.


Australian data has shown that 1 in every 3 children under the age of 6 will have at least one decayed tooth. By assessing for the presence of any areas of decay (big or small) at a young age, we can ensure that we take the right steps toward preventing a life time of problems. Studies have shown that children who develop dental decay at a young age are more likely to develop decay on their permanent teeth.


The second most common reason dental x-rays are taken for children are to assess for the presence of impacted, extra or missing teeth and to ensure that their dental development is on track.


At True Smiles Dental, the team are thoroughly trained in taking dental x-rays for children of all ages. We will of course ensure that your child is comfortable enough to take a dental x-ray before proceeding. Taking a good image is just as important as the reason we need to take them.


How often do dental x-rays need to be taken?

It is important to note that dental x-rays do not need to be taken at every appointment. Depending on the type of radiograph required, how often you need to take x-rays is dependent on varying risk factors. For example, someone who is more at risk of developing dental decay (cavities) may need to take x-rays more regularly (every 6-12 months) compared to someone who is at lower risk of decay (every 18-24 months).

Factors that can determine your risk include oral hygiene habits, oral environment and salivary flow, diet, lifestyle factors or medication and medical history.


What happens during a dental x-ray?

At True Smiles Dental in Marrickville, we have the most up to date, state of the art technology to be able to take a majority of the most commonly required radiographs in-house within seconds to minutes. And the best part – images are displayed onto the computer screen shortly after so that we can go through them with you instantly in your appointment.


If you think you might be due for dental x-rays or would like to know more about them, ask the friendly team at True Smiles Dental at your next dental check-up. Call us on (02) 7228 7272 or visit us at 235 Marrickville Road, Marrickville NSW 2204.