Dental radiographs (X-rays) are essential, preventative, diagnostic tools that provide valuable information not visible during a regular dental exam. They expose hidden structures such as wisdom teeth, reveal preliminary signs of cavities, and also show fractures and bone loss. Dentists and dental hygienists use this information to safely and accurately detect hidden dental abnormalities and complete an accurate treatment plan. Without radiographs, problem areas may go undetected. Identifying and treating dental problems at an early stage can save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and your teeth!
While traditional film radiographs provide critical insight into the oral and physical health of the patient, hi-tech digital radiographs allow dentists to view and enhance dental images on a large computer screen. Dentists can also copy or print digital radiographs with ease. This allows for effective comparison of new results to previous images and insight on how treatments or time have impacted dental conditions. If the dentist refers the patient to a specialist, digital radiographs can be transmitted via computer – eliminating the need for a second set of x-rays in most cases.
Here are some of the main conditions that digital radiographs can better identify:
- Small areas of decay
- Bone recession or loss
- Abscesses or cysts
- Fractures and trauma
- Positioning of the teeth
- Developmental Irregularities
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 on the review of your medical and dental history, dental exam, signs and symptoms, age consideration, and risk for disease.
A full mouth series or panoramic radiograph (see below) is recommended for new patients, and 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 once or twice a year to detect new dental problems.
Why Use Digital Radiographs, and are they safe?
One of the most significant advantages of using digital radiographs is to reduce radiation exposure. Digital radiographs also eliminate the use of film and chemicals required for processing, making the overall procedure much less harmful to the environment. The larger computer screen used to display digital radiographs allows dentists to view problems or irregularities with added clarity. The potential for early detection of decay or periodontal problems and reducing complicated conditions later is vastly increased.
Dental X-rays produce a low level of radiation and are considered safe. Dentists take necessary precautions to limit the patient’s exposure to radiation when taking dental X-rays. These precautions include using lead apron shields to protect the body and using shorter exposure time for each X-ray. We are all exposed to natural radiation in our environment. The amount of radiation exposure from a full mouth series of X-rays is equal to the amount a person receives in a single day from natural sources.
Panoramic X-rays are wraparound photographs of the face and teeth, taken by a mechanism that rotates around the outside of the head rather than placing a sensor inside your mouth. A panoramic X-ray is not conducted to give a detailed view of each tooth, but rather to provide a better view of overall alignment, the sinus areas, nasal areas and mandibular nerve. Panoramic X-rays are preferable to bitewing X-rays when a patient is in extreme pain, and when a sinus problem is suspected to have caused dental problems.
Panoramic X-rays are extremely versatile in dentistry, and are used to:
Assess patients with an extreme gag reflex.
Evaluate the progression of TMJ.
Expose cysts and abnormalities.
Expose impacted teeth (such as wisdom teeth).
Expose jawbone fractures.
Plan treatment (full and partial dentures, braces and implants).
Reveal gum disease and cavities.
If you have questions or concerns about radiographs or X-rays, please contact our practice.