Dental X-rays: A Look Inside

Dental x-rays are a vital part of your oral healthcare.  Along with your oral exam, x-rays allow your dentist to visualize a more complete picture of what’s going on with your teeth and gums. X-rays are used as a safe tool to help dentists be preventative, as well as diagnostic. Read on for answers to 6 common questions about dental x-rays and the role they play in keeping your mouth healthy. 

Are Dental X-rays Safe? 

  • Dental x-rays are safe, and the benefits of having dental x-rays taken far outweigh the risk. Digital dental x-rays (the kind we use in our offices) are even safer than traditional film x-rays. Even though traditional x-rays emit low levels of radiation, digital x-rays expose patients to even less radiation – 90% less as a matter of fact. 
  • Even with this low exposure to radiation, we still use protective lead aprons and thyroid collars to limit your exposure even further.  
  • In addition, the digital sensors and plates used when taking x-rays have protective plastic coverings on them. These coverings are changed out and disposed of after each patient. This eliminates the possibility of cross contamination and/or infection. 

How Often Should Dental X-rays Be Taken? 

  • The answer depends on your specific oral health situation. Typically, most healthy adults will need dental x-rays once or twice per year. Children may need them taken more frequently, as their jaws and teeth are constantly growing.  
  • You may also have dental x-rays taken if you suffer a dental injury or have a toothache, are a new patient, or have a history of dental or medical issues that require more frequent monitoring of your teeth, gums and jaw. 

What Exactly Do Dental X-rays Show Your Dentist? 

  • X-rays give your dentist a full picture of your mouth, from the hard tissues (teeth and bones) to the soft tissues (gums) that surround your teeth and bones.  X-rays allow your dentist and oral healthcare team to see bone health, growth of tooth buds (for children), tooth placement, as well as signs of decay and infection. 
  • Your dentist can also use x-rays to find signs of gum disease or tooth fractures and cracks that aren’t visible to the naked eye. 
  • X-rays provide your dentist with a history of your oral health between visits, as well as a baseline for future visits. 
  • In addition, dental x-rays help your dentist plan the best treatment for your specific needs. For example, if you have an infection in one of your teeth, x-rays allow your dentist to see the extent of the infection and plan the appropriate procedure, such as a root canal. Your dentist can see the progression of the infection, as well as the internal shape of your tooth and your tooth roots. This helps make sure that all of the infected area is removed effectively and efficiently. 
  • X-rays also show dentists teeth that have yet to erupt, such as wisdom teeth in adolescents. Using x-rays, you’ll be able to know whether your child has impacted wisdom teeth and will require oral surgery to remove them. Your child’s dentist can also monitor the growth and development of their jaw and detect any potential issues before they become a major problem. 

How Do Digital X-rays Work? 

  • As far as the actual procedure for taking a digital x-ray goes, it is pretty similar to – but much more comfortable than – taking a traditional dental x-ray. A sensor is inserted into your mouth, and with the push of a button, it captures an image of your teeth, gums and/or jaws. 
  • The digital sensor sends the information directly to one of our computers, allowing the images to be viewed immediately. According to pretty much all of our patients, the digital sensors are much smaller and easier to tolerate than the plastic tabs and x-ray film used in taking traditional x-rays. 

What are the Advantages of Digital X-rays? 

  • In addition to the increased safety and efficiency of the x-ray process, digital x-rays have many advantages, including the ability to adjust the image on the screen if necessary. The image can be enlarged or magnified for close inspection. This makes it much easier to identify any small cavities or other areas of concern. 
  • Because the image is immediately available for both the dentist and patient to review, problems can be diagnosed and treated much more quickly. 
  • It is also much easier to show you these images and explain exactly how any problem areas should be treated now or in the future. 
  • If you require a specialist for any oral health issues, digital x-rays allow your dentist to get those images to the specialist right away. 

What Are the Different Types of Dental X-Rays?

There are five common types of dental x-rays: 

  • A bitewing x-ray is used to look at one specific area of your mouth. Each bitewing captures the visible part of your upper and lower teeth as well as half of their roots and supporting bone. 
  • A periapical x-ray captures an image of the whole tooth. It shows everything from the chewing surface to the root. Each periapical x-ray shows a small section of your upper or lower teeth. 
  • A full mouth survey x-ray is made up of a combination of bitewing and periapical x-rays. Usually, full mouth x-rays are taken when you’re a new patient at your dentist’s office so they can get a baseline of the state of your oral health. Full mouth x-rays are also used for dental work, such as root canals, extractions, and gum disease treatment. 
  • A panoramic x-ray is an external x-ray, meaning that it is taken outside of your mouth.  A rotating arm on the x-ray machine makes a semi-circle around your head and takes a single, detailed image of all of your upper and lower teeth. 
  • Occlusal x-rays are images of a section or entire arch of teeth in the upper or lower jaw. They’re mostly used by pediatric dentists to find children’s teeth that have not yet broken through the gums.

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