Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: The Dental Specialty Dedicated to X-Rays

Father Showing Son How to Use Camera

You may be familiar with the X-rays that your dentist takes as part of a routine dental visit, but there's actually an entire dental specialty dedicated to the use of radiographic images for dental diagnoses and treatment, known as oral and maxillofacial radiology.

X-rays, otherwise known as radiographs, are useful in dentistry to see parts of your teeth, gums and jaw that are not visible to the naked eye. Here's a look into this specialty and the imaging methods it uses.

What Is Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology?

According to an article in the World Journal of Radiology, the specialty of oral and maxillofacial radiology is recognized by about 40 countries in the world, with varying names. You might also hear it referred to as dentomaxillofacial radiology. This specialty includes taking and interpreting the following types of images:

  • X-rays captured inside the mouth (intraoral), commonly taken at routine dental examinations
  • Dental panoramic imaging
  • Cephalometric imaging
  • Head and neck ultrasound images
  • Sialography, which is the imaging of the salivary glands, according to the National Institutes of Health
  • Cone beam computed tomography (CBCT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

If your dentist advises that you need images taken with one of these methods, you may want to look into the cost. The Radiological Society of North America explains that the cost will depend on which type of imaging you need, where you get the images taken and how much your insurance covers. However, the National Association of Dental Plans notes that most dental insurance plans cover the cost of preventive dental X-rays.

Cone Beam Computerized Tomography

As the Food and Drug Administration describes, a CBCT system allows dental professionals to take images using a cone-shaped X-ray beam that rotates around the patient. Unlike standard dental images, the CBCT image will show a three-dimensional picture of the teeth, mouth, jaw, neck, ears, nose and throat.

There are many reasons why your dentist might choose to take CBCT images, which include:

  • Planning for dental implants
  • Visualizing abnormal teeth
  • Evaluating the jaws and face (especially for malformations, such as cleft palates or tumors)
  • Assessing cavity formation
  • Diagnosing dental trauma

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

As an article in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research describes, MRI is a non-invasive method used to give an internal view of the hard and soft tissue structures in the body. MRI does not use ionizing radiation like X-rays; instead, it uses certain frequencies within the magnetic field to obtain cross-sectional images of the body.

Your dentist might use this type of imaging for several reasons, such as:

  • Diagnosing temporomandibular joint disorders
  • Examining areas in the head and neck, such as the sinuses, salivary glands and chewing muscles
  • Detecting bone changes, such as tumors, fractures and inflammatory conditions that affect the head and neck

There is also potential to use MRI for dental procedures, such as root canals, dental implant placement and orthodontics.

Radiography extends far beyond the routine X-rays you receive at your dentist's office. Its wide range of uses is especially helpful for diagnosing and detecting oral problems early on. If your dentist recommends one of these imaging techniques, don't hesitate to voice any questions or concerns you may have. You can also seek advice from your insurance provider about which images are covered within your plan.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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