Dear Dr. H,
My new dentist insists on taking xrays before I can get my teeth cleaned. All I really want is to have clean and white teeth for my wedding next month. Why can’t she just clean my teeth?
Unhappy Bride
Dear Unhappy Bride,
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! What an exciting time!
I hear this concern about xrays often from patients and I understand the frustration.
First, let me explain the why. Dentists cannot see cavities in between teeth, the bone around the teeth, or any bone abnormalities just by looking and feeling the teeth. It’s essentially the same issue physicians have with breast exams. The physician can look and feel breast tissue, but they cannot see cancerous lesions without the help of a mammogram.
Second, the American Dental Association has made recommendations on how often xrays should be taken on a patient based on their age and cavity risk. Dentists follow these recommendations because they are regulated by something called the standard of care. When dentists don’t follow the standard of care and a patient suffers harm, it is a bad situation for everyone. Again, the same situation exists with a physician who allows a woman to skip her mammogram. If the patient had cancer that went undetected because no mammogram was ordered for another full year, it is bad for everyone involved.
So, you see, your dentist is not trying to be mean! She wants to catch problems early so you don’t end up with bigger problems later.
Dr. H
BTW: If you have had xrays at another dentist’s office within the last year, you can have them sent to your new dentist. The dentist doesn’t have to take the xrays to be within the standard of care, they just have to have them and read them.

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