Dental X-rays (dental radiography) are images of your teeth that your dentist uses to evaluate your oral health. These X-rays are used with low levels of radiation to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. This can help your dentist to identify problems, like cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth.
Dental X-rays are typically performed yearly. They can happen more often if your dentist is tracking the progress of a dental problem or treatment.
Factors affecting how often you get dental X-rays may include:
- your age
- your current oral health
- any symptoms of oral disease
- a history of gum disease (gingivitis) or tooth decay
If you’re a new patient, you’ll probably undergo dental X-rays so that your new dentist can get a clear picture of your dental health. This is especially important if you don’t have any X-rays from your previous dentist.
Children may need to have dental radiography more often than adults because their dentists might need to monitor the growth of their adult teeth. This is important because it can help the dentist determine if baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications, such as adult teeth growing in behind baby teeth.
While dental X-rays do involve radiation, the exposed levels are so low that they’re considered safe for children and adults. If your dentist uses digital X-rays instead of developing them on film, your risks from radiation exposure are even lower.
Your dentist will also place a lead “bib” over your chest, abdomen, and pelvic region to prevent any unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs. A thyroid collar may be used in the case of thyroid conditions. Children and women of childbearing age may also wear them along with the lead bib.
Pregnancy is an exception to the rule. Women who are pregnant or believe they may be pregnant should avoid all types of X-rays. Tell your dentist if you believe you are pregnant, because radiation is not considered safe for developing fetuses.
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A periapical x-ray is one that captures the whole tooth. It shows everything from the crown (chewing surface) to the root (below the gum line).
Panoramic x-ray, is a two-dimensional (2-D) dental x-ray examination that captures the entire mouth in a single image, including the teeth, upper and lower jaws, surrounding structures and tissues. The jaw is a curved structure similar to that of a horseshoe.
Cephalometric X-rays are extraoral, meaning that no plates or film are inserted into the mouth. Cephalometric and panoramic X-rays display the nasal and sinus passages, which are missed by intraoral bitewing X-rays. Cephalometric X-rays are usually taken with a panoramic X-ray machine.
The bitewing radiograph depicts the top and bottom jaws crowns of the teeth, providing a clear image of the in between surfaces of the teeth and allowing for detection of interproximal caries.
Cone-beam computed tomography systems (CBCT) are a variation of traditional computed tomography (CT) systems. The CBCT systems used by dental professionals rotate around the patient, capturing data using a cone-shaped X-ray beam. These data are used to reconstruct a three-dimensional (3D) image of the following regions of the patient’s anatomy: dental (teeth); oral and maxillofacial region (mouth, jaw, and neck); and ears, nose, and throat .
It has never been safer and easier to take x-rays!