It is not uncommon to have a new, or even long-time patient come in for an exam(check-up) and inform me that they don’t need, or don’t want x-rays taken today. I often find myself explaining to patients the importance of periodic dental x-rays, even when no pain or problems are being experienced.

Dental x-rays serve a number of purposes. No matter how sharp the dentist’s vision is, there are areas, such as between the teeth, under old fillings, the roots of the teeth, the bone below the gums, and the bone of the jaws, that can’t be seen without the aid of x-rays. If there is a problem in one of these areas, without x-rays , it could go undetected for years. Quite frequently, a problem, such as a cavity, loss of supporting bone, or even an abscessed tooth will appear on an x-ray long before any sign or pain appears to the patient. In fact without x-rays, even a very experienced dentist could be unaware that a problem exists.

A large concern for patients is exposure to x-ray radiation and the health risks associated with that. In recent years, with advancement in the sensitivity of x-ray film, and now, with the advent of digital x-rays, the amount of radiation exposure to a patient is extremely low.

Being trained in the U.S., the general standard there for x-ray taking is as follows:
For a new patient we haven’t seen before; we’d like to have one of two different combinations to x-rays to give us a thorough overview. Each dentist will have their own preference as to which of these combinations they will take in a given circumstance.

The first; the full mouth series(FMX), consists of small individual x-rays showing each of the teeth, including their roots and supporting bone. Additionally, bite-wing x-rays are taken as well. Bite wings are the 2 to4 x-rays dentists taken yearly; or somewhat less frequently depending on where you were trained. The bite wings are very good at showing a dentist if there are cavities between the teeth or under old fillings or crowns, as well as condition of the bone immediately supporting the teeth. Many cavities can only be detected with the aid of these x-rays.

The other combination of x-rays often used for a new dental patient are bite wings in combination with a panoramic x-ray(OPG). An OPG is and extra-oral x-ray taken by a special machine circles the patients head. The OPG gives an large view of both jaws in their entirety, as well as the teeth. This type of x-ray is particularly helpful if there are issues with a patient’s wisdom teeth.

The regimen of x-rays for children, is of course, different than adults, and usually involves far fewer being taken.

Either the OPG or FMX are generally taken about every five years; with the bite wings being taken roughly every year. If you move, or change dentists, usually copies of an existing OPG or FMX from your previous dentist, if they are less than five years old, will be adequate.
As mentioned earlier, each individual dentist will have their own preference, depending on their training and the situation the patient presents with, as to what specific type of x-rays they take routinely and at what frequency they take them.
Periodic x-rays as part of a dental check-up, even when no pain or problems are being experienced, are one of the most important aspects of preventative dentistry, and are invaluable at catching developing, problems; often before they get very serious, making them far easier and less costly to treat.

Problems are most often seen by a dentist long before they are felt by the patient.