Dental X-rays are a useful diagnostic tool when helping your dentist detect damage and disease not visible during a regular dental exam. How often X-rays should be taken depends on your present oral health, your age, your risk for disease, and any signs and symptoms of oral disease. For example, children may require X-rays more often than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing and their teeth are more likely to be affected by tooth decay than those of adults. Your dentist will review your history, examine your mouth and then decide whether or not you need X-rays.
If you are a new patient, the dentist may recommend X-rays to determine the present status of your oral health and have a baseline to help identify changes that may occur later. A new set of X-rays may be needed to help your dentist detect any new cavities, determine the status of your gum health or evaluate the growth and development of your teeth. If a previous dentist has any radiographs of you, your new dentist may ask you for copies of them. Ask both dentists to help you with forwarding your X-rays.
If you are pregnant, tell your dentist. During your pregnancy, we try to limit the X-rays taken as part of your treatment plan for a dental disease. If absolutely necessary, use of the leaded apron and thyroid collar will protect you and your baby from radiation exposure. Dental X-rays do not need to be delayed if you are trying to become pregnant or are breastfeeding.
Digital radiographs are one of the newest X-ray techniques. Standard X-ray film is replaced with a flat electronic pad or sensor. The image goes into a computer, where it can be viewed on a screen, stored or printed out. Once on the screen, digital X-rays can be enlarged or magnified for a better visual of the tooth's structure. Brightness, contrast and color can also be adjusted, allowing your dentist to see small cavities easier. Digital X-rays taken at different times can be compared using a process that highlights differences between the images. Tiny changes therefore can be caught earlier. Digital X-rays use about half the radiation of conventional film, so it significantly reduces your exposure.
X-rays allow dentists to:
The various types of intraoral X-rays show different aspects of the teeth:
Bite-wing X-rays highlight the crowns of the back teeth. Dentists take one or two bite-wing X-rays on each side of the mouth. Each X-ray shows the upper and lower molars (back teeth) and bicuspids (teeth in front of the molars). These X-rays are called "bite-wings" because you bite down on a wing-shaped device that holds the film in place while the X-ray is taken. These X-rays help dentists find decay between back teeth.
Panoramic X-rays show the entire mouth on a single X-ray. They include all teeth on both upper and lower jaws. This type of X-ray requires a special machine. The tube head that emits the X-rays circles behind your head while the film circles across the front. That way, the full, broad view of the jaws is captured on one film. Because the machine moves in a set path, you have to be positioned carefully. Devices attached to the X-ray machine hold your head and jaw in place. All this may look and feel intimidating, but the process is very safe. It often uses less radiation than conventional X-rays.