Why does my dentist need to take an x-ray?

The why, the how, and the when

Intan Nobury


Nov 30, 23

4 min read

Photo by Quang Tri NGUYEN on Unsplash

I get it. Dental appointments are expensive enough, and to top it off, I’m told I need a couple of x-rays to get to the root of the problem (no pun intended). But do I really need that x-ray? Is it really that necessary or is the dentist just trying to get a couple more bucks from me? It actually wasn’t until I was in the dental field myself that I understood the importance of x-rays for dentists to see what actually lies beneath the surface. 

Dental radiographs, sometimes referred to as dental X-rays, are diagnostic pictures that dentists take in order to see within the teeth and jaws. These pictures provide important information that is not visible during a routine dental exam. For the purpose of evaluating and tracking different facets of oral health, dentists and other oral health specialists rely heavily on dental X-rays.

Types of dental x-rays

There are three types of x-rays that are used in dentistry:

Bitewing X-rays

These images often show a close up of one area of your mouth and are frequently used to look for dental deterioration in between teeth.

Periapical X-rays

These reveal the entire tooth, including the roots and surrounding bone, and concentrate on one or two teeth at a time. This x-ray allows the dentist to see if there are any areas of concern such as decay, gum disease or any bone issues. 


OPGs, or panoramic x-rays, give a wide-ranging image of the entire mouth, including the upper and lower jaws, all of the teeth, and any surrounding structures. Planning orthodontic treatments and evaluating general dental health are two areas in which it is very helpful.

Why are dental x-rays taken?

The short answer is, for more information. Your x-ray will show your dentist everything they need to know prior to treating you. It will exhibit details that the eye can’t see to ensure that the right treatment is recommended and completed on the correct tooth before any problems escalate. 

  • Finding Cavities: X-rays can help locate cavities in places that a routine examination cannot see, such as between the teeth.
  • Evaluating Tooth and Jaw Development: Sometimes, in cases where we’re treating children and teenagers, x-rays are used to track the expansion and maturation of the teeth and jaws.
  • Wisdom Teeth: X-rays are used to evaluate wisdom teeth, which can cause problems if they are not positioned correctly. They can also be used to detect the presence of wisdom teeth.
  • Invisalign and Orthodontic Treatment: Prior to commencing treatment, X-rays are often taken to properly plan orthodontic treatments, such as braces or Invisalign, by evaluating the alignment of teeth and the anatomy of the jaw.
  • Gum disease diagnosis: X-rays can display a degree of bone loss brought on by periodontal or gum disease.
  • TMJ Disorder Identification: X-rays aid in the diagnosis of problems pertaining to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which may result in jaw pain and dysfunction.

Are x-rays safe?

A small amount of radiation is exposed during X-rays, however, very little when it comes to dental x-rays. Comparing modern digital X-ray equipment to older film X-rays, the radiation dose has greatly decreased. Though dental x-rays are safe during pregnancy, we do recommend any non-urgent dental care to wait until after baby is born and generally only take the x-ray if it is absolutely necessary. 

How often will I need dental x-rays?

The need for dental x-rays can be influenced by a number of factors including age, oral health status and the risk category you fall into for dental disease. Dental x-ray needs and requirements also depend on each individual’s health status as opposed to being taken at every appointment. 

Final thoughts

Dental X-rays are essential for treatment planning, early diagnosis and preventive care; all of which are established to improve oral health and wellbeing in general. At the end of the day, it is up to each individual to decide whether they want to proceed with the dental x-ray based on their own research, knowledge and comfortability.

Written By

Intan Nobury

An appreciator of art, novels and high intensity sports. With a passion for work and a dangerous addiction to tea.