Everyone who has visited a dentist has had dental X-rays at some point. It could be a part of a routine check or to help diagnose a problem. X-rays or radiographs are nothing but images of your teeth that your dentist takes to evaluate your oral health. 

These X-rays are done using low levels of radiation to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. These are primarily used in dentistry to have a detailed view of your teeth or gum.

This can help your dentist to identify problem areas which could be tooth cavities, tooth decay, tooth erosion and or any other issue. 

Dental X-rays

X-rays may sound complex but they are actually a very common tool for dentists. They use it in day to day activities for examining and treating any patient. These X-rays are so commonly used that it is also needed for a basic activity like your teeth cleaning.

What exactly are X-rays? Why are they required for and why are they such an important preventative and diagnostic tool for a dental professional? 

X-ray Computed Tomography (or CT scan) is a kind of nondestructive technique. It is used for visualizing interior features of your gum within solid objects. You can obtain digital information on 3-D geometries.

However, there are many different types of X-rays and each one of them has different purposes.

How Are Dental X-Ray Performed?

  • X-rays are taken with you in a sitting position.
  • The dental assistant will place a lead apron over your chest and wrap a thyroid collar around your neck.
  • The X-ray film or sensor will be placed in your mouth for the picture.

Generally, patients do not have any discomfort or pain when X-rays are being taken. The location and size of the sensor placement are the deciding factors in determining your comfort level. 

If the size of the mouth is smaller, the sensor placement will be a little more challenging. Taking X-rays is a painless procedure. 

If you have a sensitive gag reflex, then you must inform your dental technician. He will do certain things to help keep the gag reflex away while he is taking the X-ray. Children are prone to gag reflexes and have a hard time with X-rays.

X-rays are normally performed yearly, but they can happen more often if your dentist is tracking a dental problem or treatment progress. Some of the factors affecting how often you get X-rays may include:

  • Your current oral health
  • Any symptoms of oral disease
  • Your age
  • History of gum disease or gingivitis or tooth decay

Dental X-rays

If you’re a new patient, you will have to undergo X-rays so that your new dentist can get a clear picture of your dental health. This is important if there are no X-rays from your previous dentist.

Children require to have X-rays more often. Compared to adults because their dentists need to monitor the adult teeth growth. This is of utmost importance because it can help your dentist to make informed decisions. Decisions if your kid’s baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications like adult teeth growing in behind baby teeth.

Dental X-rays

Types of Dental X-ray

There are different types of X-rays, which can record different views of your mouth. The most common are intraoral X-rays, such as:

1 Bitewing X-ray

This technique involves biting down on a special piece of paper so that your dentist can see how well the crowns of your teeth match up. It is commonly used to check for cavities between teeth. Bitewings are typically taken every year to help detect dental caries between your teeth and prevent the bone level that houses your teeth.

2 Occlusal X-ray

This technique is performed when your jaw is closed to see how your upper and bottom teeth line up. It can also detect anatomical abnormalities with the floor of the mouth or the palate. These specialized X-rays reveal very valuable information. They are used to show the roof or floor of the mouth and to check for things like extra teeth, impacted teeth, abnormalities, issues with the jaw, and any solid growths, such as tumors.

Dental X-rays

3 Panoramic X-ray

For this type of X-ray, the machine rotates around your head. This X-ray captures your entire mouth in one image. Your dentist might use this technique to check your wisdom teeth, investigate jaw problems or plan for implanted dental devices. For example your dentists and oral surgeons may use it to schedule dental treatment plan for braces, dentures, extractions and implants

4 Periapical X-ray

This technique focuses on two complete teeth, from root to crown. This type of X-ray takes a full tooth picture from the very top of the tooth crown to the very tip of the root. 

Periapical X-rays are taken when you have symptoms with a specific tooth or a follow-up to a procedure. Your dentist can help determine if there is an abscess, abnormalities in the surrounding bone structure, or deep decay. If it is not handled in the right time it will lead to bone loss.

5 Extraoral X-ray

X-rays may be used when your dentist suspects there might be problems in areas outside of the gums and teeth, such as the jaw.

Plain Film vs Digital X-Ray

Digital X-rays are now fast replacing traditional plain film X-rays. This is because digital x-rays are easier to use. Digital X rays expose one to the reduced amount of radiation. 

Digital X-rays use specialized sensors to send the image directly to your computer. You can view it immediately on the screen. 

In case of plain film X-ray, if the image comes out too light or too dark, one may have to do the X-ray again. In case of a digital X-ray, your dentist can easily adjust the X-ray on the computer. This allows the dentist to read it easily to allow for easier reading. The dentist can also zoom in on specific areas and even create a larger image.

Dental X-rays

Plain Film vs Digital X-Ray

Digital X-rays are now fast replacing traditional plain film X-rays. This is because digital x-rays are easier to use. Digital X rays expose one to the reduced amount of radiation. 

Digital X-rays use specialized sensors to send the image directly to your computer. You can view it immediately on the screen. 

In case of plain film X-ray, if the image comes out too light or too dark, one may have to do the X-ray again. With a digital X-ray, your dentist can easily adjust the X-ray on the computer to allow for easier reading. The dentist can also zoom in on specific areas and even create a larger image.

Pregnancy and Dental X-Ray

X-rays during pregnancy are safe. All agree that delaying dental work could lead to more complicated problems in the long run. Regulatory bodies recommend wearing a protective apron over your throat and abdomen during a radiograph or the X-ray procedure. There are good regulations and guidelines in place regarding radiation exposure to a minimum. All of us should try to limit our exposure to radiation. X-ray equipment is fairly safe and uses very little radiation.

Dental X-rays

Insurance for X-Ray

Most dental insurance plans now cover routine X-rays along with your routine dental examination. Every dental plan is different, so you should check with your insurance provider for details on your specific plan.

Preparing for Dental X-ray

You do not require any specific preparation. The only thing you would want to do is to brush your teeth just before your appointment. This would create a more hygienic environment for those working inside your mouth.

You will sit on a chair with a lead vest across your chest and lap. The machine will be placed alongside your head to record images of your mouth. In some of the dental clinics, they have a separate room for X-rays.

Risks of Dental X-ray

X-rays done at the dental clinic do involve radiations but the exposed levels are very low. Hence they are considered safe for children and adults. 

Your dentist will generally place a lead bib over the upper part of your body. This is to prevent any unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs. 

A thyroid collar might also be used in the case of thyroid conditions. Children and women should also wear them along with the lead bib.

Pregnancy as you are aware – is an exception to the rule. If you are pregnant or believe that you might be pregnant, you should avoid all types of X-rays. 

Discuss with your dentist if you believe you are pregnant. Because even this low radiation is not considered safe for your developing fetuses.

Dental X-rays

Recommended Frequency of Dental X-Ray

Some guidelines are followed globally and by the regulatory body of respective countries regarding administering X-rays during a routine dental visit.

  • For a child having no clinical decay and no risk of decay, posterior bitewings are recommended every 1-2 years.
  • For a child having evident clinical decay or an increased risk of dental decay, posterior bitewings are recommended every 6-12 months.
  • An adult with no apparent clinical decay and no increased risk should receive posterior bitewings every 2 to 3 years.
  • Adults having an increased risk of tooth decay, obvious clinical decay, generalized dental disease, or a history of extensive dental treatment should have posterior bitewings taken every 6 to 18 months.