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  • Danielle Godley

Are X-rays REALLY Necessary?

Updated: Apr 26

Boy holding up panoramic dental x-ray
Boy holding up panoramic dental x-ray

You just had x-rays taken at the dentist. Why does your orthodontist need a new one? In fact, why do orthodontists need x-rays at all? Similar to what's under the bread in a sandwich or behind a closet door, some dental problems are hidden. In fact, two-thirds of what goes on in your mouth is below the surface.

X-rays (aka radiographs) are images that reveal differences in how dense tissues are in your body. They allow doctors to see objects hidden by skin and bone. The most common x-rays taken by general dentists are bitewings, which help dentists interpret cavities. Orthodontists typically take what are known as panoramic and cephalometric x-rays. These give a bigger picture of information about your jaws, bone, and teeth.

Why do orthodontists need x-rays?

Some things may be hiding that can only be seen through x-rays. It is often much easier for an orthodontist to identify and correct a problem when it is forming rather than waiting for it to fully develop.

Orthodontists use x-rays to look for:

  • Tooth Development -- The typical person will have 20 baby teeth and 32 adult teeth. That is a lot of teeth! Orthodontists check size, shape, position, and angulation of teeth to assess if things are developing normally.

  • Impacted Teeth -- Sometimes teeth become trapped, stuck or develop in the wrong direction. This is referred to as an impacted tooth. Impacted teeth can cause crowding and damage to surrounding teeth. If caught and addressed early, they often self-correct. If not addressed in time, impacted teeth may require extensive treatment and potential surgery.

  • Pathology -- Abnormalities can develop inside the bone which may not otherwise be visible. These include abscesses, extra teeth, tumors, and cysts. Diagnosed early, abnormalities can often be treated and sometimes even save a life.

  • Jaw Growth -- Problems with jaws include bones that are too big, too small, asymmetrical, too far away, too close together, or misshapen. Orthodontists use x-rays to determine where orthodontic problems exist so that it can be treated appropriately.

Are x-rays safe?

X-rays taken by dentists and orthodontists expose a patient to less radiation than they would receive on a typical airplane flight. At Godley Family Orthodontics we invest in ultra low radiation equipment and use the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable). Dr. Godley is careful to only take x-rays on her patients when it is in their very best interest.

Do I need a referral to an orthodontist?

No referral is necessary, and it is never too late to have your bite and smile evaluated. Bringing your child to see an orthodontist by age 7 will help catch dental problems early and give you an idea of what to expect as they grow and develop. Most orthodontists offer free exams to make sure your teeth are coming in properly or let you know of any missing teeth.


Be sure to choose an AAO, Board Certified Orthodontist for yourself and your child. You can locate AAO orthodontists through their Find an Orthodontist locator at


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