Why do I need so many dental x-rays?

I get asked every day” why do I need dental x-rays”. I tell the patient that “it is the only way I can see between the teeth”.  Dental decay can be the fastest-growing oral pathology.

What needs to occur in your mouth to get a cavity? To get a cavity you need three things:

  1. You need to have bacteria in your mouth. All people have some bacteria in the mouth. All of us need a balance of the good and bad bacteria so our oral cavity functions well. Too little bacteria and we will get an overgrowth of yeast. So a healthy mouth needs some bacteria.
  2. The bacteria need a food source. The bacteria can digest most of the foods we eat. So anything other than water eventually allows bacteria to digest and then secrete acid as the byproduct of their digestion which causes dental decay.
  3. The last thing that is needed for dental decay is time. I mean that if bacteria have enough time they will digest the food source and then excrete acids which can start the decay process.

As you can see, we all have bacteria, we all need to eat and if left alone this will lead to tooth decay. We can’t control the bacteria or the need to eat. We can control the time that the bacteria is digesting the food. So ideally, every time we eat we should brush, floss, and rinse to stop the decay process. Some people are lucky and have less aggressive dental decay bacteria and can neglect the cleaning process and still not get decay. They are the lucky ones. However, as in life, not everyone is that lucky.

Our job as dentists, hygienists, and staff is to try to look for the small decay and remove it so that they don’t turn into large problems which could lead to tooth loss. We need x-rays to complete that mission. The radiation absorbed by dental x-rays is minimum and less if wearing a lead shield. The amount of radiation is less than we get by walking outside for an extended time and much less than flying cross country or sun tanning.

In summary, unless you brush and floss after each time anything other than water gets into your mouth, you should have x-rays to look for decay. And remember that serial x-rays give us the ability to track if the decay process is progressing into a situation needed to address. I will discuss the actual technical process of taking, reading and interpreting dental x-rays in a later blog. The reality is that a slight angulation change can obscure the view so serial x-rays help expose past decay processes hidden by normal variations in dental x-ray-taking process.


If you have any concerns or questions please call my office. Smile Solutions 302-999-8113