What are dental X-rays?

During your initial dental consultation as a new patient at Deer Park Dental, your teeth will be thoroughly assessed and examined for any problems or damage. We will also often recommend taking digital X-rays to not only provide a more thorough initial exam, but also to set a baseline for any future changes in your oral health. This procedure holds true for both adults and children.

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What are the different types of dental X-rays?

There are various types of X-rays. The two main types are intraoral, in which the X-ray film or digital sensor is placed inside the mouth; and extraoral, where the X-ray film is placed outside the patient’s mouth.

Intraoral X-rays, the most common type of dental X-rays, are used to identify the health of the tooth root as well as the bone that surrounds it. They are also used to check the condition of developing teeth and monitor the general health of your jawbone and teeth.

Extraoral X-rays focus mainly on the jaw and skull. Unlike intraoral X-rays, which are used to detect cavities and other teeth problems, extraoral X-rays are recommended for the identification of impacted teeth. They also allow the dentist to monitor the growth and development of the teeth and jaw.

What are digital X-rays?

The newest innovation in dental X-ray technology is digital X-rays. In a digital X-ray, the information is sent directly to a computer and can be viewed on screen and stored. Digital X-rays have several benefits: they use less radiation than regular film X-rays, there is no need to develop film, images can be enhanced and enlarged, electronic images can be sent instantly to other dentists for consultation, and software enables comparison of the current image to previous images removing everything that has stayed the same and only leaving a clear image of the portion that has changed. At Deer Park Dental we are pleased to provide digital x-rays to our patients.

What are the different types of intraoral X-rays?

There are also several types of intraoral X-rays:

Bite-wing X-rays. Bite-wing X-rays are used to assess upper and lower back teeth through a series of X-rays taken as the bite wing x-ray is moved around the mouth. A bite-wing X-ray shows the tooth from its crown to about the level of the supporting bone. Bite-wing X-rays are used to detect decay between teeth and changes in bone density caused by gum disease. They can also be helpful when fitting a crown and for determining the integrity of fillings.

Full-mouth X-rays. Full-mouth X-rays use 18 – 20 radiographs taken in one visit to provide a full view of the mouth. They include the bite-wing and periapical x-rays in one set.

Periapical X-rays. Periapical X-rays show the whole tooth, from the crown to beyond the end of the tooth root where it is anchored in the jaw. This X-ray shows the full dimension of the tooth and includes all the teeth in one portion of either the upper or lower jaw. Sometimes cavities cannot be detected from only one direction of an x-ray. Thus having these periapical x-rays to supplement the bite-wing x-ray help to catch abnormalities in the teeth and jaw or additional areas of dental caries (cavities). Periapical radiographs are also used to determine any abnormalities in the tooth root structure and its surrounding bone structure. They can be used to detect abscessed teeth from the nerve becoming necrotic (dead) from tooth decay (caries), from a deep restoration or from a cracked tooth or trauma. They can also be used to detect cancers or tumors in the jaw. Periapical films also are helpful to identify supernumerary (extra) teeth that occasionally occur in the jawbone.

Panorex. A Panorex, or a panoramic radiograph, is a dental X-ray that shows the entire upper and lower jaw in a single X-ray. Panorex X-rays show the position of fully emerged and emerging teeth, can identify impacted teeth, and help with the diagnosis of tumors or fractures in the jaw or TMJ.

CT or Cone Beam scans in dentistry

Dental implants and root canal procedures go beyond the dental surface, reaching the tooth root itself. Because of this, regular dental X-rays may not provide sufficient visuals in these situations. Computed tomography, commonly known as the CT scan or Cone beam scan, is used to evaluate bone for the placement of implants and in root canals. It can also identify tumors and fractures.

We also use CT or cone beam scans to determine abnormalities in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This is used if there is an incidence of trauma to the face or jaw or if a patient is experiencing extreme joint pain with changes in the bite position. If a patient with jaw pain does not respond to treatment with a bite guard (SRA – superior repositioning appliance), we may also recommend a CT scan of the joint to determine any future recommended treatment.

Are cone beam or dental CT scans safe?

The CT or cone beam scan done for dental purposes has much less radiation than a typical scan done for medical procedures. It is similar in equivalence to a full mouth set of x-rays. The information received when these scans are used help your dentist to provide more accurate dental care especially when the volume of bone for an implant is in question, or when treatment is needed for a difficult root canal.

How often should dental X-rays be taken?

Full mouth x-rays should be taken every 3 to 5 years depending on the patients rate of cavities (tooth decay), when their last dental visit was and other important medical history such as cysts or tumors.

X-rays are always taken with maximum protection using a lead shield including covering the thyroid area and other sensitive tissues.

Bitewing x-rays are typically taken every 12 months but on some patients every 18 to 24 months.  The frequency is dictated by previous restorations, previous caries and medications that can cause dry mouth or diet habits.  On very high cavity prone patients sometimes bitewing x-rays, (showing the top half of the tooth and the contacts between the teeth), are recommended every six months.