Overview

X-rays, also known as radiographs, are an essential part of any dental care treatment plan. They are diagnostic, but they can also be preventative, by helping a dentist diagnose potential oral care issues in a patient’s mouth before they become a major problem. An x-ray is a type of energy that passes through soft tissues and is absorbed by dense tissue. Teeth and bone are very dense, so they absorb X-rays, while X-rays pass more easily through gums and cheeks.

X-rays are divided into two main categories, intraoral and extraoral. Intraoral is an X-ray that is taken inside the mouth. An extraoral X-ray is taken outside of the mouth.

Intraoral X-rays are the most common type of radiograph taken in dentistry. They give a high level of detail of the tooth, bone and supporting tissues of the mouth. These X-rays allow dentists to:

  • Find cavities

  • Look at the tooth roots

  • Check the health of the bony area around the tooth

  • Determine if periodontal disease is an oral care issue

  • See the status of developing teeth

  • Otherwise, monitor good tooth health through prevention

Understanding

The benefits of X-rays are well known: They help dentists diagnose common problems, such as cavities, gum disease and some types of infections. Radiographs allow dentists to see inside a tooth and beneath the gums to assess the health of the bone and supporting tissues that hold teeth in place.

There are a number of X-rays a dental professional can order. The type of X-ray needed will depend greatly on the type of care the patient needs to receive.

Here are some of the most common types of X-rays performed:

  • Periapical
    Provides a view of the entire tooth, from the crown to the bone that helps to support the tooth.

  • Bite-Wing
    Offers a visual of both the lower and upper posterior teeth. This type of X-ray shows the dentist how these teeth touch one another (or occlude) and helps to determine if decay is present between back teeth.

  • Panoramic
    Shows a view of the teeth, jaws, nasal area, sinuses and the joints of the jaw, and is usually taken when a patient may need orthodontic treatment or implant placement.

  • Occlusal
    Offers a clear view of the floor of the mouth to show the bite of the upper or lower jaw. This kind of X-ray highlights children’s tooth development to show the primary (baby) and permanent (adult) teeth.

These X-rays are typically performed in the office of a dentist or dental specialist. First, a dental professional will cover you with a heavy lead apron to protect your body from the radiation. Next, the dental professional will insert a small apparatus, made of plastic, into your mouth and ask you to bite down on it - this holds the X-ray film in place. The technician will then proceed to take an X-ray picture of the targeted area. This process is pain-free and will be repeated until images have been obtained for your entire mouth. The use of digital X-rays provides significantly less radiation to the dental patient and is convenient and time saving for the dental practice.

Planning

Dental X-rays are very safe and expose you or your child to a minimal amount of radiation. When all standard safety precautions are taken, today's X-ray equipment is able to eliminate unnecessary radiation and allows the dentist to focus the X-ray beam on a specific part of the mouth. High-speed film enables the dentist to reduce the amount of radiation the patient receives. A lead body apron covers the body from the neck to the knees and protects the body from stray radiation.