X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft
tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. X-ray
pictures can show cavities, hidden dental structures (such as wisdom teeth),
and bone loss that cannot be seen during a visual examination. Dental X-rays
may also be done as follow-up after dental treatments.
following types of dental X-rays are commonly used. The X-rays use small
amounts of radiation.
- Bitewing X-rays show the upper and lower back
teeth and how the teeth touch each other in a single view. These X-rays are
used to check for decay between the teeth and to show how well the upper and
lower teeth line up. They also show bone loss when severe gum disease or a
dental infection is present.
- Periapical X-rays show the entire
tooth, from the exposed crown to the end of the root and the bones that support
the tooth. These X-rays are used to find dental problems below the gum line or
in the jaw, such as
cysts, tumors, and bone changes linked to some
- Occlusal X-rays show the roof or floor of the mouth and
are used to find extra teeth, teeth that have not yet broken through the gums,
jaw fractures, a cleft in the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), cysts,
abscesses, or growths. Occlusal X-rays may also be used to find a foreign
- Panoramic X-rays show a broad view of the jaws, teeth,
sinuses, nasal area, and temporomandibular (jaw) joints. These X-rays do not
find cavities. These X-rays do show problems such as impacted teeth, bone
abnormalities, cysts, solid growths (tumors), infections, and
- Digital X-ray is a new method being used in some dental
offices. A small sensor unit sends pictures to a computer to be recorded and
A full-mouth series of periapical X-rays (about 14 to 21
X-ray films) is most often done during a person's first visit to the dentist.
Bitewing X-rays are used during checkups to look for tooth decay. Panoramic
X-rays may be used occasionally. Dental X-rays are scheduled when you need them
based on your age, risk for disease, and signs of disease.
Why It Is Done
Dental X-rays are done to:
- Find problems in the mouth such as tooth
decay, damage to the bones supporting the teeth, and dental injuries (such as
broken tooth roots). Dental X-rays are often done to find these problems early,
before any symptoms are present.
- Find teeth that are not in the
right place or do not break through the gum properly. Teeth that are too
crowded to break through the gums are called impacted.
- Find cysts,
solid growths (tumors), or abscesses.
- Check for the location of
permanent teeth growing in the jaw in children who still have their primary (or
- Plan treatment for large or extensive
root canal surgery, placement of dental implants, and
difficult tooth removals.
- Plan treatment of teeth that are not
lined up straight (orthodontic treatment).
Without X-rays, dentists may miss the early stages of decay