X-rays, also called radiographs, give your dentist the ability to see between and inside your teeth. He can also view the tip of your roots and bone underneath your gums – places not normally visible to the naked eye. Although they are used as part of a routine examination to rule out dental disease, X-rays also aid your dentist in diagnosing any specific or isolated dental problems you might be experiencing.
Radiographs are used to check for cavities and evaluate the extent of decay. And because some X-rays show the root of the tooth, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), the presence of any cysts, abscesses and other masses can be diagnosed. Congenitally missing or impacted teeth such as wisdom teeth are often identified this way, and the presence and extent of bone loss due to periodontal disease is easily seen through dental X-rays as well.
Types of X-rays
Bitewing, periapical and panoramic radiographs are the most common X-rays used in the dental office. During routine exams, your dentist may take two to four bitewing x-rays – which show the crown portions of your teeth – to check for early signs of decay between your teeth. When she wants to get a good look at your teeth's bone height or root tips, periapical X-rays provide the best view. A panoramic X-ray, according to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), is taken from outside of your mouth and produces an image of the entire oral cavity on one large X-ray. Because the image shows all of the teeth, as well as the upper and lower jaws and sinus areas, this type of X-ray can identify impaction, cysts, tumors, jaw disorders and bone irregularities.
How Often Are X-rays Needed?
Everyone's oral health varies, and as a result, the dentist will evaluate your needs and recommend an X-ray schedule accordingly. If you're a new patient, the dentist may advise taking a full series of X-rays or panoramic image to assess your current oral health state, and use this as a baseline going forward. As you continue your regular checkup visits, fewer X-rays are needed to monitor the status of your oral health.