How a Dental X-ray Can Help Your Oral Health

Dental x-rays are a vital part of an oral exam. An x-ray will allow the dentist to get a detailed view of your teeth, jawbone and other hard tissues that you can’t see from just looking in your mouth. Dental x-rays are essential because they can detect issues early, so they are easier to treat successfully. Here’s everything you need to know about dental x-rays and how they can help your oral health.

Dental x-ray and tools background.

Types of Dental X-rays

In order to get a comprehensive look at your teeth, your dentist will take several x-rays from different angles. These may include:

  • Bitewing X-rays. This type of x-ray is designed to show a detailed view of a portion of your mouth. It is used on both your upper and lower set of teeth. Bitewing x-rays help detect tooth decay between the teeth. They can also show how well a bridge or crown fits.
  • Periapical X-rays. Periapical x-rays can be used to detect changes in the bone and tooth root.
  • Panoramic X-rays. This is one large x-ray that captures an image of your entire mouth, jaw and sinus area. It is mainly used as a diagnostic tool when patients are experiencing dental issues.
  • Cephalometric X-rays. Orthodontists will use this type of x-ray when putting together a treatment strategy for braces or other orthodontic treatments.
  • Occlusal X-rays. Occlusal x-rays are commonly used in children to ensure that the teeth are growing in and developing properly.

Occlusal X-rays

When you go in for a routine dental exam, you can expect x-rays to be part of your dentist’s preventative routine. It’s essential that you share any problems or symptoms you may be experiencing so your dentist can use the right x-ray to diagnose your issue.

Dental Computed Tomography (CT)

In some cases, your dentist may need a more detailed image of your teeth and mouth. Dental computed tomography, or a dental CT scan, uses multiple x-ray images combined into one large image to give health professionals a clear and accurate look at your teeth and jaw. A CT scan of your mouth could help diagnose more serious dental problems, such as oral tumors or cysts.

Benefits of Getting Dental X-rays

Although it may seem redundant to some patients, dentists rely on x-rays to catch dental cavities, infections or other dental issues as early as possible. X-rays show areas of the teeth that are not visible just by looking in the mouth. Here are some of the benefits of getting a dental x-ray during your next dental checkup:

1. Valuable Diagnostic Tool

X-rays are necessary for healthy teeth because they allow the dentist to get a better view of your mouth. They can be used to rule out dental disease and tooth decay. They can also be used to get a closer look at impacted or missing teeth. Even if you think your teeth are fine, an x-ray can catch things that could have easily been missed because you weren’t experiencing any symptoms.

Healthcare, medical and radiology concept - two dentist doctors looking at x-ray. selective focus.

2. Dental X-rays Are Safe

It is safe for you to get a dental x-ray. You may be concerned about the effects of radiation. However, today’s dental x-rays use very low levels of radiation that pose minimal risk to your health. There are also things that the dentist can do to minimize your exposure to radiation.

The American Dental Association1 recommends that patients wear a leaded apron over their bodies while getting an x-ray. Also, you should let your dentist know if you are breastfeeding or pregnant.

3. Catch Oral Cancer Early

Dentists can use dental x-rays to diagnose oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society2, the chances of surviving and fully recovering from oral cancer is much greater if caught in the early stages. A dental x-ray may detect irregularities that could be an early sign of oral cancer.

4. Detect Bone Loss in the Jaw

In addition to your teeth, a dental x-ray can get a good look at your jaw bone. Bone loss can occur for several reasons, including missing teeth that were never replaced, advanced periodontal disease and severe dental misalignments that affect your bite. Using an x-ray, your dentist can see if you’re suffering from bone loss and suggest treatments that will help.

Dental consultation in clinic. Dentist showing 3D tomography image on screen

5. Save You Time and Money

A dental x-ray can save you both time and money by catching dental problems in their early stages. Problems can quickly become complicated to treat as they get worse. If a dental issue goes undiagnosed or untreated for a long time, it may require complex and expensive procedures that could have easily been avoided if caught earlier.

How Often Do You Need to Get Dental X-rays?

Everyone’s dental health is different. That is why your dentist will come up with a specific recommendation for getting dental x-rays. If you are seeing a dentist for the first time, they may recommend several x-rays so they can do a comprehensive assessment of your oral health. They will also be able to use the x-rays as a baseline for future exams and treatments. Generally, you should expect to get dental x-rays during your bi-annual checkups.

Dentist and patient looking at a digital dental x-ray.

Dental x-rays can help keep your mouth healthy in several ways. However, they are a tool used to catch dental issues, not prevent them. For optimal oral health, make sure you are brushing at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day and seeing your dentist twice a year for your cleanings and exams. Your good oral hygiene habits will reflect in your dental x-rays!

About the Author

Dr. Scott Futch

Dr. Scott F. Futch, DDS

Dr. Scott Futch has been a clinical director for Absolute Dental since April 2017. Dr. Futch graduated from University of Michigan School of Dentistry and completed his training at the Dawson Academy; a postgraduate multi-disciplinary education clinical research facility dedicated to the advancement of dentistry. Dr. Futch has had over 25 years of experience as a skilled clinician, mentor and coach.

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