Although dental X-rays expose you to a low level of radiation, they are a safe and important diagnostic tool your dentist relies on to detect a variety of oral health problems. Dentists use X-rays to detect decay, a tooth abscess, impacted teeth, and bone loss from periodontal disease. The different types of dental X-rays can provide your dental care team with the information needed to make a correct diagnosis.
Intraoral X-rays are X-rays that your dentist takes inside your mouth. However, there are various types of intraoral X-rays that allow a dentist to see different areas of your teeth and mouth.
Occlusal X-rays show the arch of teeth in either the upper or lower jaw. Your family dentist may use occlusal X-rays to assess your child's tooth development, particularly to locate molars that haven't yet come through.
Bitewing X-rays give your dentist a view of the crowns - the part of the tooth you can see - of the upper and lower molars at the back of your mouth. This helps your dentist find cavities between the teeth. These Xrays also assist in fitting dental crowns and checking the condition of dental fillings.
Dentists usually take bitewing X-rays on both sides of your mouth. You bite down on small tabs that hold the film or sensor in place while the dentist or a dental assistant takes the X-ray.
Dentists use periapical X-rays to take a closer look at a particular tooth or teeth. These X-rays provide a view of the tooth from crown to root tip and include the bony area surrounding the tooth. This helps your dentist identify the cause of a toothache, which may be due to a cyst, abscess, impacted tooth, or another problem that occurs below the gum line or in the jaw.
In some cases, your dentist may recommend taking full-mouth X-rays to collect images of every tooth in your mouth. Full-mouth X-rays use a combination of bitewing and periapical X-rays.
Dentists use extraoral X-rays when they need to see more than your teeth. Extraoral X-rays, which are taken outside of your mouth, provide images of the teeth, jaw, and skull.
Although extraoral X-rays do not show as much detail as intraoral X-rays, dentists use them to identify impacted teeth and to help diagnose TMJ disorder. The type of extraoral X-ray your dentist uses depends on what kind of problem he or she suspects.
A panoramic X-ray allows your dentist to view an image of your entire mouth on a single film. These X-ray images show the position of existing and emerging teeth on the upper and lower jaws.
Dentists use panoramic X-rays for fitting dentures and braces or planning tooth extractions and dental implants. The use of this type of X-ray can also detect an impacted wisdom tooth, advanced periodontal disease, oral cancer, tumors or cysts in the jaw bone, and even sinusitis.
If you or your child needs orthodontic treatment, cephalometric projections are X-rays that show a side view of the skull. Since these X-rays show the teeth and bones of the mouth from the side, dentist or orthodontist can evaluate the position and angle of the teeth in planning for affixing dental braces.
Digital radiographs are taken by an X-ray technique that uses a sensor instead of a standard X-ray film. The dentist views the image on a screen and then saves it.
This type of X-ray highlights differences between images taken at different times, allowing your dentist to detect changes that occur. He or she can enlarge or enhance the image in other ways, making it easier to find problems early on that aren't yet visible during an oral exam. Another advantage is that digital X-rays use much less radiation than standard X-rays.