Dental X-rays (radiographs) are images of your teeth that our dentists use 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 to identify problems, like cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth.
Why dental X-rays are performed
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 X-rays 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.
Digital radiography (digital x-ray) is the latest technology used to take dental x-rays. This technique uses an electronic sensor (instead of x-ray film) that captures and stores the digital image on a computer. This image can be instantly viewed and enlarged helping the dentist and dental hygienist detect problems easier. Digital x-rays reduce radiation 80-90% compared to the already low exposure of traditional dental x-rays.
Dental x-rays are essential, preventative, diagnostic tools that provide valuable information not visible during a regular dental exam. Dentists and dental hygienist use this information to safely and accurately detect hidden dental abnormalities and complete an accurate treatment plan. Without x-rays, problem areas may go undetected.
Dental x-rays may reveal:
- Abscesses or cysts
- Bone loss
- Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors
- Decay between the teeth
- Developmental abnormalities
- Poor tooth and root positions
- Problems inside a tooth or below the gum line
If our team discovers any of these issues in your x-ray, we immediately form a plan to combat and correct the issues. We discuss the treatment options with you and ensure that you are comfortable with whatever we suggest before performing any further operations. Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage may save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and your teeth!
Types of Dental X-Rays
There are two main types of dental X-rays: intraoral (the X-ray is inside the mouth) and extraoral (the X-ray is outside the mouth).
Intraoral X-rays are the most common type of X-ray. There are several types of intraoral X-rays. Each shows different aspects of teeth.
- Bitewing X-rays show details of the upper and lower teeth in one area of the mouth. Each bitewing shows a tooth from its crown (the exposed surface) to the level of the supporting bone. Bitewing X-rays detect decay between teeth and changes in the thickness of bone caused by gum disease. Bitewing X-rays can also help determine the proper fit of a crown (a cap that completely encircles a tooth) or other restorations (such as bridges). It can also see any wear or breakdown of dental fillings.
- Periapical X-rays show the whole tooth — from the crown, to beyond the root where the tooth attaches into the jaw. Each periapical X-ray shows all teeth in one portion of either the upper or lower jaw. Periapical X-rays detect any unusual changes in the root and surrounding bone structures.
- Occlusal X-rays track the development and placement of an entire arch of teeth in either the upper or lower jaw.
Extraoral X-rays are used to detect dental problems in the jaw and skull. There are several types of extraoral X-rays.
- Panoramic X-rays show the entire mouth area — all the teeth in both the upper and lower jaws — on a single X-ray. This X-ray detects the position of fully emerged as well as emerging teeth, can see impacted teeth and helps diagnosis tumors.
- Cone beam CT (CBCT) is a type of X-ray that creates anazing 3-D images of dental structures, soft tissue, nerves and bone. It helps guide tooth implant placement and evaluates cysts and tumors in the mouth and face. It also can see problems in the gums, roots of teeth and the jaws. The CBCT machine rotates around the patient’s head, capturing all data in one single rotation. A unique advantage of CBCT is that it can be used in a dentist’s office. Dental computed CT equipment is only available in hospitals or imaging centers.
3D Dental X-Rays
Our Lady’s Island dentist office offers 3D X-ray capabilities for patients. Our SIRONA ORTHOPHOS SL 3D allows our team to more accurately diagnose your tooth pain and monitor your tooth alignment, both leading to better overall treatment.
How does this help us in our service to you? We can examine your mouth in more precise, more efficient, and more detailed manner. Whether we are examining your mouth for preventative or cosmetic purposes, CBCT 3D dental X-rays help you maintain a healthy mouth.
How often should dental x-rays be taken?
The need for dental x-rays depends on each patient’s individual dental health needs. Your dentist and dental hygienist will recommend necessary x-rays based upon the review of your medical and dental history, a dental exam, signs and symptoms, your age, and risk of disease.
A full mouth series of dental x-rays is recommended for new patients. A full series is usually good for three to five years. Bite-wing x-rays (x-rays of top and bottom teeth biting together) are taken at recall (check-up) visits and are recommended one or twice a year to detect new dental problems.
Taking routine dental xrays help detect decay and disease early so that treatment can be as minimally invasive as possible. Putting off dental xrays can easily lead to the need for more extensive treatment since dentists cannot see all that may be going on inside the tooth or under the gums. More extensive treatment means spending more money on your teeth and gums. As in most areas of dentistry, any preventative or routine diagnostic measure can greatly reduce the amount of dentistry needed as well as the amount of money spent on your oral health.
Risks of dental X-rays
While dental X-rays do involve radiation, the exposed levels are so low that they’re considered safe for children and adults. At Lowcountry Family Dentistry, we use digital radiography which reduces your risks from radiation exposure are even lower.
Our dentist or hygienist 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 our team if you believe you are pregnant, because radiation is not considered safe for developing fetuses.
Radiation is typically measured in units called millirem (mrem). Each year, the average person receives about 620 mrem of radiation from all natural and man-made sources combined. For those patients concerned about radiation, here are some comparisons:
- .1 mrem-amount of radiation from one bitewing
- .5 mrem-round trip coast to coast plane ride
- 35 mrem-sunlight and other cosmic radiation over 1yr
- 40 mrem-radioactive trace elements in food and water over 1yr
- 228 mrem radon in the air over 1yr
- 1000 mrem-full body CT scan
- 10,000 mrem-first clinical signs of radiation injury appear
While digital x-rays do emit a very small amount of radiation, it is clear that the benefits greatly outweigh any minimal risks.