Regularly scheduled oral exams are a necessary part of maintaining good oral health. Proper brushing and flossing can help keep the damage that the bacteria in your mouth does at a minimum, but we do recommend regular dental cleanings as well. During your oral exam, your hygienist may tell you that it’s time to have your teeth x-rayed. Dental x-rays allow the hygienist and the dentist to better see any patterns of damage or decay in your mouth and address them.
What Are Dental X-rays?
Dental x-rays are radiographic images taken of your teeth. X-ray technology uses low levels of radiation to capture images of parts of your mouth that are impossible to see otherwise – the inside of your teeth and gums. The x-rays show problems like cavities, decay, and impacted teeth. They are very commonly used by dentists and often scheduled on a yearly basis. By taking x-rays over time, the dentist can see the progression of any kind of decay or malpositioning of teeth. Children may have x-rays taken more often than adults because their baby teeth are being replaced by adult teeth, and sometimes this can create problems for them.
While taking dental x-rays does produce a small amount of radiation, the levels are so low they are considered safe for both adults and children. When x-rays are developed digitally, there is even less radiation exposure. As a protective measure, the dental hygienist will place a lead apron over your chest, abdomen and pelvis. Another protective measure sometimes used is a thyroid collar. Pregnant women should not have x-rays done even with the lead apron because radiation is not considered safe for the developing fetus. So if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, tell your dentist or hygienist.
Types of Dental X-rays
There are a number of different types of x-rays that can be useful. The most common type of intraoral (inside the mouth) x-ray is the bitewing x-ray. This kind requires you to bite down on a piece of plastic that holds the x-ray film against your upper and lower teeth. This helps the dentist to see how well the upper and lower crowns of your teeth are positioned. Bitewing x-rays will reveal cavities between your teeth too.
Occlusal x-rays are similar to bitewing x-rays. They show the roof or floor of the mouth, and the dentist will use them to look for extra teeth or teeth that have not yet broken through the gums, cysts, abscesses, growths, jaw fractures, or a cleft palate. This type of x-ray is most often used on children whose adult teeth have not all appeared.
Panoramic x-rays will take a picture while the machine rotates around your head. This type of x-ray is useful to the dentist when he wants to check your wisdom teeth, determine where to place a dental implant, or look for jaw problems.
Periapical x-rays are yet another intraoral x-ray technique which involves biting down on a metal rod with a ring attached to it. This type of x-ray takes a picture of the whole tooth from root to crown and is used to detect any changes in the tooth’s root or surrounding bone structure.
Extraoral x-rays are x-rays that are taken of areas outside of the gums and teeth. They are usually taken to determine if there are jaw issues present.
There is nothing too difficult involved in taking dental x-rays. The dental hygienist will guide you through the process and tell you when you need to hold very still and when you need to bite down. When the x-ray process is finished, she will remove the lead apron and examine the images. She will also share them with the dentist so he can get up to date with any issues inside your mouth.
If the dental x-rays reveal cavities or tooth decay, the dentist and hygienist will go over your treatment options. If everything is fine, that’s good news! Typically you will not have to have x-rays done for another year. Many patients wonder why they have to have x-rays, but hopefully you can see from the above explanation that x-rays are very useful for finding issues in your mouth and addressing them before they become larger, more painful, and more expensive to fix.