In the diagnosis and management of many dental conditions, radiographs (x-rays) are used to detect issues that may not be able to be found during routine examination, and on occasion before any pain is felt.
Early detection of problems with the mouth or teeth, such as cysts, infections, hidden decay, impacted teeth and bone loss can be seen easily on x-rays, but may not be visible to your dentist just by examining your teeth.
X-rays are usually taken before certain procedures to assist planning, such as removing a tooth, fitting of a denture or false teeth, fitting of braces, placement of crowns, implants and bridges, and root canal treatment. They are also taken following any injury to the mouth to determine the extent of damage.
There are three main types of X-rays that are used in dentistry.
- Bitewing x-rays - are very thin digital plates that fit inside your mouth briefly, one of each side, while you bite on a piece of plastic that centres the plate, for about 30 seconds. These are used to detect or confirm decay in the teeth, and to assess the bone levels around the roots of the teeth, to check for periodontal (gum) disease. The x-ray shows a true image of the upper and lower back teeth, as well as around fillings, crowns and other dental work, the bone under the gum, and decay.
Periapical x-ray -which shows an entire tooth, its root and the bone around it. They are very useful to determine if there is bone loss around the root, cysts and abscess, finding inflammation in the bone due to infections in the root canals of teeth, and for examination of root tips of teeth.
- OPG (panoramic) x-ray - gives an images of the entire upper and lower jaws, including an overview of all teeth that are present. They are particularly useful also for identifying abnormalities in the jaw bone, trauma to the jaws and issues with wisdom teeth, and as a precursor for viewing developing teeth to allow for measurements to decide whether a child needs braces. An OPG shows less detail than bitewings and periapical images, so these may be required in addition to the OPG. Any specialist referral will require an OPG to be forwarded to the treating specialist.
What are X-rays?
It refers to the radiation used to create an image on to a computer screen. Tooth decay causes the dentine and enamel and appears darker an image that tooth structure which is health. Inflammation around the root tip of a tooth can destroy the bone which makes the bone appear darker than the surrounding healthy bone. There is much less radiation involved when x-rays are scanned rather than taken on the old style film, and the other advantage is that they are stored with all of your records and compared to check for stability, and easily emailed to specialists or to another dentist if you relocate.
How often are x-rays taken?
Depending on the age, dental history and any symptoms your dentist will assess how often bitewing x-rays are required. In general, from the age of 16, bitewing x-rays are recommended once every two years. They are taken with a small film which is placed on each side of the mouth to see under fillings, in between the teeth where bacterial film likes to stick and cause the tooth to soften without correct flossing, check the bone levels around the teeth, and to ensure that the teeth and supporting tissues are sound and healthy.