What Is a Cephalometric X-Ray?

A Couple Sits Together Researching Dental X-Rays on a Tablet

A cephalometric X-ray — sometimes called a ceph X-ray — is one type of X-ray that is used for both diagnostic and treatment planning purposes in both dentistry and medicine. When used properly for evaluating patients, X-rays are considered safe and are often necessary to determine the cause of certain issues. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out a number of dental conditions that can be diagnosed and treated with the help of X-rays:

  • Areas of decay or cavities
  • Impacted teeth stuck underneath the gums
  • Dental abscesses
  • Fractured jaws
  • Alignment issues

Here's what to know if your dentist recommends taking a ceph X-ray.

Cephalometric X-Ray vs. Standard X-Ray

The Cleveland Clinic explains that a ceph X-ray differs from the standard dental X-ray because it is taken extraorally (outside of the mouth) and covers a much larger field of view, including the entire side of the head. This type of image shows the relationship between your teeth, jaw and profile, which makes it especially helpful for orthodontists when planning realignment treatment. A ceph X-ray may not show the kind of detail of the teeth seen on an image taken with film placed inside the mouth, but it is ideal for viewing the big picture.

While an intraoral (inside the mouth) dental X-ray requires a film or digital sensor to be placed in the mouth, a ceph X-ray does not require any biting pieces, according to the NIH. The process requires only that the technician position you properly in front of the imaging equipment. As with all X-rays, the imaging procedure is very quick and painless.

Uses

Ceph X-rays are most commonly used for:

  • Orthodontic Treatment Planning

    A ceph X-ray gives the orthodontist a view of the skull from which they can determine the best course of treatment for their patient. A study in PLOS ONE notes that these X-rays have historically been considered the gold standard in orthodontic treatment planning.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person's airway to restrict when sleeping. A ceph X-ray is often used as a diagnostic tool by sleep medicine specialists, according to an article in Sleep Medicine Research. The image of the head and neck allows them to assess the patient's airway.
  • Temporomandibular Disorder

    Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a condition that affects the temporomandibular joint and can be a source of periodic jaw discomfort. Ceph X-rays can serve as diagnostic tools to evaluate a patient's head and jaw anatomy and determine if they may have TMD, according to a study in the Journal of Indian Academy of Oral Medicine & Radiology.

Cephalometric X-Ray Safety Concerns

Many patients may be wary of getting X-rays taken, but the American Dental Association (ADA) explains that dental X-rays deliver a very minimal amount of radiation exposure and are considered safe. You can rest assured that both your dental and medical professionals are trained to guarantee your safety when it comes to receiving any X-rays. Additionally, the ADA has adopted the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) protocol to ensure patients are exposed to the least possible amount of radiation.

Whether your orthodontist, sleep medicine specialist or TMD specialist recommends a ceph X-ray, you should feel comfortable knowing that they have taken every precaution available to ensure your safety and that the image will help them determine the best treatment plan for you.

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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X-RAY Procedure

X-rays are typically performed in the office of a dentist or dental specialist. Here is what to expect:

  1. Preparation – 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.

  2. Execution – 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.