X-rays, also known as radiographs, are a key tool for any dental care treatment plan. They are diagnostic, but they can also be preventative, by helping a dentist diagnose inherent oral care issues before they become a major problem. Dental X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissue surrounding them. A dental X-ray helps to find problems with the teeth, mouth, and even jaw. An X-ray picture can also show cavities, bone loss, and hidden dental structures, such as wisdom teeth. Dental X-rays help dentists to assess and visualize potential or current diseases of the teeth or surrounding tissue within the mouth. Early detection of any foreseen developmental concerns may lead to the proper treatments which can essentially save a patient from unnecessary discomfort or overspending on additional dental work (which could have been prevented).
What Problems Can Dental X-Rays Detect?
Dental X-rays for adults can be used to:
- Show areas of decay that may not be visible with an oral exam, especially small areas of decay between teeth
- Identify decay occurring beneath an existing filling
- Reveal bone loss that accompanies gum disease
- Reveal changes in the bone or in the root canal resulting from infection
- Assist in the preparation of tooth implants, braces, dentures, or other dental procedures
- Reveal an abscess (an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and a tooth)
- Reveal other developmental abnormalities, such as cysts and some types of tumors
Dental X-rays for kids are used to:
- Watch for decay
- Determine if there is enough space in the mouth to fit all incoming teeth
- Determine if primary teeth are being lost quickly enough to allow permanent teeth to come in properly
- Check for the development of wisdom teeth and identify if the teeth are impacted (unable to emerge through the gums)
How Often Should X-Rays Be Taken?
The frequency of getting X-rays of your teeth often depends on your medical and dental history and current condition. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months; others with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit their dentist regularly may get X-rays only every couple of years. If you are a new patient, your dentist may take X-rays as part of the initial exam and to establish a baseline record from which to compare changes that may occur over time.
Intraoral X-rays are the most common type of radiograph taken in dentistry. They give a high level of detail of the tooth, bone and supporting tissues of the mouth.
The following types of X-rays are commonly used:
- Bitewing X-rays: Show the back upper and lower teeth, and how they touch each other. It may be used to check for decay between the teeth, as well as how well the upper and lower teeth line up. It also displays any bone loss, gum disease, or dental infection.
- Periapical X-rays: Show the entire tooth and are used to find dental problems present below the gum line, or in the jaw. Dental problems this X-ray detects are impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts, tumors, or bone changes that may be linked to a disease.
- Occlusal X-rays: Show the roof or floor of the mouth. It may be used to detect any extra teeth that have not protruded through the gums yet. Also, jaw fractures, cleft palate, cysts, abscesses, or growths may be detected.
- Panoramic X-rays: Show the jaw, teeth, sinuses, nasal area, and jaw joints. It does not show any dental problems like the other X-rays.
Full-mouth series are primarily used at your first visit. Bitewing X-rays are used in a checkup to look for tooth decay, generally every one to two years. Panoramic X-rays are used occasionally.
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