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Dental X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. X-ray pictures can show cavities, hidden dental structures (such as wisdom teeth), and bone loss that cannot be seen during a visual examination. Dental X-rays may also be done as follow-up after dental treatments.
The following types of dental X-rays are commonly used. The X-rays use small amounts of radiation.
These X-rays show the upper and lower back teeth in a single view. These X-rays are used to check for decay between the teeth and to show how well the upper and lower teeth line up. They also show bone loss when severe gum disease or a dental infection is present.
These X-rays show the entire tooth, from the exposed crown to the end of the root and the bones that support the tooth. These X-rays are used to find dental problems below the gum line or in the jaw, such as impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts, tumours, and bone changes linked to some diseases.
These X-rays show the roof or floor of the mouth. They are used to find extra teeth, teeth that have not yet broken through the gums, jaw fractures, a cleft in the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), cysts, abscesses, or growths. Occlusal X-rays may also be used to find a foreign object.
These X-rays show a broad view of the jaws, teeth, sinuses, nasal area, and temporomandibular (jaw) joints. They show problems such as impacted teeth, bone abnormalities, cysts, solid growths (tumours), infections, and fractures.
These X-rays can be sent to a computer to be recorded and saved.
A full-mouth series of periapical X-rays (about 14 to 21 X-ray films) is most often done during a person's first visit to the dentist. Bitewing X-rays are used during checkups to look for tooth decay. Panoramic X-rays may be used now and then. Dental X-rays are scheduled when you need them based on your age, risk for disease, and signs of disease.
Dentists use X-rays to:
In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.
Dental X-rays are taken in the dentist's office.
Some dentists use digital radiography. This method uses an electronic sensor instead of X-ray film. An electronic image is taken and stored in a computer. This image can be viewed on a computer screen. Less radiation is needed to make an image with digital radiography than with standard dental X-rays.
The X-ray usually takes about a minute per image. You may get more than one image during a visit.
X-rays take only a few minutes and are not painful.
Some people may gag on the plastic or cardboard that holds the X-ray film. People often find it easier to relax if they focus on something else (such as an object on the wall) and take slow, deep breaths through their nose during the X-rays.
There is always a slight chance of damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the chance of damage from the X-rays is extremely low. It is not a reason to avoid the test.
Dental X-rays are safe during pregnancy. So most dental work can be done while you are pregnant. Delaying dental care can make a problem worse. Your dentist will have you wear a lead apron over your belly to protect your baby from the X-rays.
Your dentist can talk to you about your X-rays right after they are done.
No tooth decay is seen.
No damage to the bones supporting the teeth is seen.
No dental injuries, such as tooth or jaw fractures, are seen.
No cysts, solid growths (tumours), or abscesses are seen.
No extra or impacted teeth are seen and no teeth are out of their normal place.
Tooth decay is seen.
Damage to the bones supporting the teeth is seen.
Dental injuries, such as tooth or jaw fractures, are seen.
Cysts, solid growths (tumours), or abscesses are seen.
Abnormally placed, extra, or impacted teeth are seen.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Patrice Burgess MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineSteven K. Patterson BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Patrice Burgess MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Steven K. Patterson BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
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