Types of Dental X-rays

Dentists do their best to deliver quality dental treatments to all their patients. However, sometimes, the inconsistencies in the patient’s dental health may not be readily visible to the dentist. The visual examination does not tell the dentist all he needs to know about a patient’s oral health. 

For this reason, dental X-rays are a much valued dental accessory to help visualize parts of the oral cavity that are not visible to the naked eye. X-rays help the dentist accurately diagnose and treat oral abnormalities early before they can rear their ugly heads in. 

Even after examining your oral mouth and reviewing all the dental x-ray images, your dentist does not find any cavities or atypical growth, you can let out a deep sigh that he or she has seen the whole picture. Your oral health is okay!

Are dental X-rays necessary?

Radiograph or X-ray is a valuable diagnostic tool to help check your oral cavity for various dental diseases. According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), dental X-rays can help reveal many dental deviations and monitor the health of the oral structures:

●       Find dental cavities and the extent of these cavities

●       Help visualize tooth roots

●       Evaluate the health of the bony area around the tooth root

●       Assess the growth and development of primary (baby teeth)

●       Recognize congenitally missing teeth or impacted wisdom teeth

●       Check signs of cysts, abscesses, and other masses (benign or malignant masses).

●       Monitor the health of the tooth through the installation of preventive measures

How often should you get a dental X-ray?

Dental X-rays are usually taken annually. However, dental X-rays should be taken depending on specific factors such as the individual’s age, oral health, the risk for disease, and any other signs and symptoms depicting an oral disease. 

This means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” analogy when it comes to getting a dental X-ray. Dentists usually adhere to the “ALARA” principle which stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”. This principle helps guard the doses needed to expose the patient to and for how long.

Types of dental X-rays

There are two major types of dental X-rays – intraoral X-rays and extraoral X-rays.

 Intraoral Radiographs

These are the most common types of dental X-rays you are likely to encounter during a routine dental exam. The different types of intraoral X-rays show different aspects of the teeth, namely:

●       Bitewing X-rays: You will be asked to bite down on a device (wing-shaped, hence the name) while taking the X-ray. These are done to help your dentist locate cavities in the teeth in front of your molars which are otherwise difficult to find.

●       Periapical X-rays: These X-rays show the entire length of the tooth from the crown to the root and can only focus on one or two teeth at a time.

●       Occlusal X-rays: Also known as palatal X-rays, they show the entire arch of the teeth in either of your jaws. These are larger in size and help the dentist analyze the tooth growth, development, and placement in children.

Extraoral Radiographs

These X-rays are made with the film placed outside the mouth. These are important to highlight important information in the jaw and skull to give the dentist a “bigger picture” of oral health and hygiene.

●       Panoramic X-rays: They are used to show the entire mouth in a single image and may be used to visualize tooth development as well as to screen for tumours and impacted teeth.

●       Cephalometric X-rays: These radiographs show the entire side of the head. They are used for orthodontic treatment planning, diagnosing various issues like sleep apnea and Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).

●       Cone-beam computed tomography (CT): These are used for dental implant treatment planning and to evaluate the jaws and face. The images are taken using a cone-bean that rotates around you to take 3D pictures.

●       Standard computed tomography (CT): This type of X-rays may be done to determine the size and placement location for dental implants. It has a higher radiation dose exposure and must be done at a radiologist’s office.

With dental innovations rapidly progressing, digital dental X-rays have also made a noteworthy spot at many dental clinics. These use a sensor to capture the images that are then uploaded onto the computer software. The amount of radiation you are exposed to with digital X-rays is also significantly lower than a traditional X-ray.

Are dental X-rays safe?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dental X-rays are safe! Radiation exposure associated with dentistry represents only a minor contribution to the total exposure from various sources. The ADA, however, urges all dentists and patients to have an added protection of a leaded apron to cover the abdominal area. A leaded collar may also be used to protect the thyroid. 

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should let your dentist know, though routine dental X-rays do not pose any risk to the pregnancy and should not be avoided.

Dental X-rays are important for your dentist to assess your oral health properly. If you have any concerns about dental X-rays, you should always discuss the treatment plan and recommendations with your dentist. This includes discussing the liabilities and necessities of a dental X-ray for your oral and general well-being.

Updated On October 7, 2020

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