What can dental x-rays do?
Dental x-rays, or radiographs, allow a dentist to see dental conditions not visible to the unaided eye. Although visual inspection by a skilled dentist can reveal many things, x-rays can additionally show:
- Areas of tooth decay that are very small, between teeth, or under fillings
- Infections in the bones that hold the teeth
- Periodontal disease
- Tooth abscesses
- Some types of tumors
- Developmental problems occurring with the teeth, such as impacted wisdom teeth
With such a range of capabilities, x-rays are an important part of a dentist’s toolbox. They serve both diagnostic and preventative functions.
Types of x-rays
Depending on what information is being collected, one or more of various types of x-rays can be used. These types are not mutually exclusive:
These x-rays show the potential development of cavities between the teeth, in areas that cannot be seen with unaided inspection. For young children, this sort of x-ray is unnecessary because normally the teeth in the back of the mouth are not touching until their first permanent molar has arrived.
Periapical X-rays display two or three teeth in their entirety, from root to crown, as well as the supporting bone structure. X-rays of this sort will show any abscesses or gum disease, as well as giving information on the growth of secondary teeth and wisdom teeth in children and young people.
Panoramic x-rays show the entire array of teeth in one image, as well as the bone and sinus structures surrounding the teeth. Useful for orthodontic analysis, panoramic x-rays are not taken with film in the mouth, but require sitting still on a photographic stand for approximately 15 seconds. Panoramas also are used for reconstructive dentistry.
These x-rays show the upper and lower teeth in a way that aids assessing how well the teeth fit in their bite (how well they “occlude”).
Orthodontic x-rays (also called “cephalometric” or “lateral skull” x-rays) include the skull in profile, to enable an orthodontist to assess jaw and bone growth, and how the teeth will develop in that matrix.
What happens during a dental x-ray?
The specific type of x-ray being given will determine in part what happens, but typically the dentist will cover you with a heavy lead apron that will shield your body from unneeded x-ray radiation. You will then bite down on a plastic device that holds the x-ray film steadily in your mouth. The dentist or dental assistant will then take the x-ray, a painless process that takes just a second or two.
If you are receiving a panoramic x-ray, you will stand or sit still in a booth for a few seconds while the x-ray imaging head moves through an arc that follows your jaw, taking images that will be composited into a panorama.
Dental x-rays cause concern for some people, who worry about potential adverse effects caused by the radiation of the x-rays. Fortunately however, x-rays as administered today are very safe. While admitting that x-ray radiation can pose a small risk, it is clear that the benefits far outweigh those risks. Remember that there are health risks to not having x-rays as well.
Today’s sophisticated machines, combined with digital sensors, are able to produce excellent images with far less radiation than in the past when films were used. Dentists are more conservative in x-ray use, x-rays are more precisely targeted, and more precautions – such as lead filled aprons reaching from the thyroid gland of the neck to the genitals and reproductive organs to protect body organs from x-rays – all mitigate x-ray hazards.
How often to x-ray?
One major consideration in minimizing x-ray hazards is simply minimizing the frequency with which x-rays are administered. Your dentist should take into consideration your health, your dental history, and your history of dental x-rays. X-rays should be done to answer specific questions and needs, and not simply be items regularly scheduled at regular calendar intervals. Finally, if you are changing dentists it is often possible to have x-ray records transferred between them.
Children and x-rays
Many parents are anxious about their children receiving x-rays, in recognition that important physical development happens in the early years. For this reason, x-rays for children should only be conducted to answer specific dental purposes. That said, there are also specific reasons why a dentist would consider taking an x-ray of a child’s mouth:
- X-rays can reveal how baby teeth will erupt through a child’s gums, and note the number, size, and location of developing and yet-to-erupt through teeth.
- X-rays can ascertain whether a child has any extra or missing teeth.
- X-rays can help detect infections in a child’s new teeth.
- X-rays can provide important information when preparing for braces, if necessary.
Your dentist at Sherway Gardens Dental Centre is aware of the benefits of dental imaging and the proper limits of its use, and can assist you in understanding when x-rays are suitable in your case.Visit our office for a consultation