Sometimes I, as your dentist, need a more in-depth picture of what’s going on in your mouth (and your overall oral health) than a visual examination can provide. That’s when we turn to X-rays. I use them for a wide variety of purposes, including to find cavities between your teeth, to diagnose gingivitis or periodontal disease, to help place implants, to uncover tumors, and to detect impacted teeth. Their use has been around for quite a while. The technology has certainly changed. I can remember helping out in my dad’s dental office, back in the 70’s, and developing negatives in the dark room chemical baths. You acquired skills you could use at a professional photo studio, really. Here are a few more facts you should know about dental X-rays.
1. We have ways to protect you from radiation exposure. The amount of radiation used to take teeth X-rays is minimal, making X-rays a safe diagnostic tool. However, we’ll still work to prevent as much radiation exposure as possible. We’ll use a leaded apron draped over your chest (preferably including a leaded thyroid collar for your neck). I may also use a collimator, which is a tube that extends out of the X-ray machine and limits the size of the X-ray beam you receive. Women should always inform us if they are or might be pregnant before undergoing an X-ray. We utilize Digital Dental Radiography, which offers these benefits:
- -Less Radiation — The equipment used in digital radiography exposes dental patients to much less radiation. In fact, digital X–rays use up to 90 percent less radiation than film X–rays.
- -If you need a hard copy of your X–ray, digital images can also be printed out.
2. How often do you need an X-ray? If you are an adult who has healthy teeth and gums, you may not need to get X-rayed every year. You can probably skip the annual X-ray, and just get them every two years if it’s determined you’re at low risk for oral health problems. If you have previously had cavities or are at a higher risk of getting them, you will likely undergo bitewing X-rays every 18 months. If it’s your first visit to a dentist, you will likely undergo X-rays so the dentist will have a baseline for your oral health.
3. Different types? Yes. People are most familiar with Bitewing X-rays, which are taken with the X-ray film inside the mouth of the crown-to-bone area of both the upper and lower teeth. Other types of X-rays include:
- -Periapical X-ray, which focuses only one or two teeth
- -Palatal, or occlusal, X-ray, which takes an image of all the teeth in either the upper or lower jaw at one time
- -Panoramic X-ray, which is taken from outside the mouth (extraorally) with a machine that rotates around the patient’s head to capture the entire mouth, including the jaw, all at one time. The dentist usually uses these to plan for dental implants, detect impacted wisdom teeth, or investigate possible jaw problems.
4. Wisdom teeth diagnostics. That potentially troublesome third set of molars, are commonly impacted (they don’t emerge from the gums). Panoramic imaging can be used to look at the area and determine whether these teeth need to be extracted. When these things get impacted, they can cause overcrowding, or if they only partially emerge, they can trap food, resulting in tooth decay. After looking at your wisdom teeth X-ray, we can make recommendations about whether they should be removed.
In the case of the information I’ve included here, please consult with a health professional with any questions you may have about your own oral health. This blog is not to be considered medical advice.