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Dental X-Rays: Procedure, Types, Uses, And Safety | Hawaii Family Dental

Written by Danica Lacson on October 3, 2018

What are Dental X-Rays?

Dental X-Rays are images of the oral cavity or its related structures produced by X-ray or X-radiation, a form of electromagnetic radiation.

Why are Dental X-Rays needed?

Dental X-rays provide a precise and specific view of the condition of the oral cavity which is essential in the diagnosis of the oral-related issues. The radiographs show the small cavities between the teeth. hidden cavities, bone infection, gum disease, abscesses, tumors, and cysts, enabling the early diagnosis of dental problems and the right treatment to be done.

They are necessary aids in locating concealed dental structures such as the wisdom teeth, as well as, signs of bone loss. Additionally, they are used in checking the progress of the dental treatment.

How are Dental X-Rays produced?

Dental X-Rays are produced when the radiation passes through the soft tissues in the oral cavity like the gums and cheek, while the dense tissues like the teeth and bones absorb the radiation. Through this process, the internal structures of the oral cavity are revealed.

How is a Dental X-Ray procedure done?

Dental X-Rays are done in a radiographic imaging room. The patient is then prepped for the procedure by covering the patient's body with a heavy lead apron and thyroid collar to minimize the exposure of the abdomen and thyroid from the radiation. The execution of the dental X-Ray will be dependent on the type of dental X-Ray needed to be performed.

What are the types of Dental X-Rays?

Dental X-Rays are divided into two main categories namely intraoral and extraoral which are further divided into different types.

Intraoral X-Rays

Intraoral X-Rays involves the putting of an X-ray film inside the mouth. It is the most common type of dental X-ray which is often used to locate dental cavities, observe the bone area and tooth roots, and monitor tooth development. Intraoral X-Rays include bitewings, periapical, occlusal, and full mouth X-Rays.

Types of Intraoral Dental X-Rays

  • Bitewings are the most commonly used intraoral X-ray which help in the diagnosis of cavities and periodontal issues, as well as, tooth development. In this type of dental X-ray, an X-ray film is placed on the tongue side of the teeth. The patient will then bite down a cardboard tab to hold it in place. Four bitewings are taken to capture all the teeth.
  • Periapical X-Rays show the full tooth dimension from the crown down to the supporting bone structure. This type of dental X-Rays is helpful in the detection of problems below the gum line and the jaw which may include impacted tooth, fractures, dental abscesses, and bone changes in relation to other diseases.
  • Occlusal X-Rays display the entire arch of the mouth which include the floor or roof. With occlusal X-Rays, teeth placement and development including those teeth that are yet to erupt can be observed. Aside from the teeth, this type of dental X-Rays show dental abscesses, jaw fractures, cleft palate, cysts, among others.
  • Full Mouth Radiographic Survey, as its name suggests, provides a full mouth view which include every tooth and its supporting structures like the bones. The radiographic survey is comprised of about 14 to 20 images using both bitewings and periapical X-Rays or even a panoramic radiograph. Full mouth X-rays are often recommended to be done on the first dental visit of the patient.

Extraoral X-Rays

Extraoral X-Rays are dental X-Rays taken with the X-Ray film positioned outside of the mouth. Although less detailed than intraoral X-Rays, this type of dental X-Rays provides a larger perspective of the oral cavity, as well as, its surrounding structures like the jaw and the skull. Extraoral X-Rays include panoramic radiography, cephalometric radiography, dental cone beam CT, tomograms, and sialography.

  • Panoramic Radiography produces an image which shows the entire mouth including the teeth, upper and lower, jaw, and other surrounding tissues and structures. This type of extraoral X-Ray is done by positioning the head on the machine where an X-Ray tube is mounted on one side and the film on the opposite side. Through panoramic radiography, bone abnormalities, maxillary sinuses, tumors in the jaw, and signs of oral cancer can be identified.
  • Cephalometric Radiography shows the entire side of the head and is typically done for planning an orthodontic treatment as it provides a view of the relation of the dental and skeletal features of the patient.
  • Dental Cone Beam CT is a special type of X-Ray equipment which is used to produce three-dimensional images of the oral cavity including the teeth, bones, tissues, and nerve pathways. To take images, a cone beam CT scanner is used. The scanner rotates around the head and goes through a 360-degree rotation, taking multiple images from various angles which are then reconstructed to compose a single 3-D image.
  • Tomograms are the images produced using a tomograph. Tomograms show a particular section of the mouth which is helpful in examining a structure which is in close proximity to other structures.
  • Sialography uses a dye called a radiopaque contrast agent which is injected into the salivary glands. Through the dye, the salivary glands, which are soft tissues, are better visualized on the X-ray film.

How often should I have Dental X-Rays taken?

The frequency will be dependent on your dental needs and on your dentist's recommendation. Patients who are more susceptible to dental issues like tooth decay may need to get dental X-Rays more often than those who rarely get dental problems.

Additionally, the type of treatment you need will also affect how often you should have dental X-Rays taken. If you are under orthodontic treatment, dental X-Rays may be taken to check the progress of your treatment.

Are Dental X-Rays safe?

Dental X-Rays are safe as dental X-Ray machines are specifically designed to minimize the amount of radiation. Moreover, safety precautions are used in dental offices such as wearing heavy lead apron and lead thyroid collar. Most dentists are also using digital X-Rays which uses far less radiation. However, it is advised to inform your dentist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding although it is still perfectly safe to get a dental X-Ray during this period.

Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.


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