Why do dentists need so many X-rays?

Example of your dentist taking periapical and bitewing dental X-rays of your teeth.

Dentists rely heavily on X-rays to diagnose dental problems including cavities and gum disease. This is why all dental visits start off with taking X-rays of your teeth. Without proper radiographs, your dentist would not be able to diagnose conditions such as bone loss, impacted teeth and other suspicious lesions.

What are common types of X-rays used in dentistry?

Dentists use four types of X-rays to better diagnose dental conditions. These include periapicals & bitewings, panoramic, lateral cephalometric and CT scans. Here is a bit more information about each type of radiograph:

Pericapicals & Bitewings

Pericapial and bitewing X-rays capture lots of fine details but only a small area. This is why new patients typically require 12 to 18 of these X-rays.

Periapicals and bitewings are those small individual X-rays the dental assistant takes while you sit in the dental chair. Typically, dentists require 12 to 18 of these X-rays on your first visit and 4 to 6 on future recall appointments. These X-rays are ideal for diagnosing dental cavities, infection and gum disease. Periapicals and bitewings capture lots of fine details, but each one only captures a small region. Each X-ray typically only covers 2 to 3 teeth, which explains why you need about dozen to capture the whole mouth.

Panoramic X-ray

A panoramic X-ray is used to capture wisdom teeth and other impacted teeth during oral surgery procedures.

Panoramic radiographs, abbreviated panorex, are ideal for identifying wisdom teeth, impacted teeth and TMJ problems. Having a panoramic X-ray provides your dentist with a broad overview of what your teeth, mandible and facial bones look like. Since panorex captures a large segment of your skull, it is very useful for oral surgery procedures, especially tooth extractions.

Lateral Cephalometric (Ceph)

A Ceph X-ray is used in orthodontics to access the relationship of upper and lower teeth and jaws.

Lateral cephalometric X-rays, abbreviated Ceph, are primarily used for orthodontic treatment. Most orthodontists take a preliminary and final ceph to compare the results of your treatment. Occasionally, you may require additional ceph X-rays to monitor the progress of your orthodontic treatment. In addition to orthodontics, Cephalometric radiographs are also useful for sleep apnea diagnosis and ENT conditions.

Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)

CT images are used to identifyimportant landmarks such as nerves and sinus membranes which are important for dental implant placement.

CT images are used to capture 3-dimensional views of your jawbone. These images are ideal for identifying bone width, nerve location and sinus position. These landmarks are very important for dental implant placement, which is why CT images are typically taken prior to implant surgery. In fact, a CT or CBCT is the only acceptable diagnostic radiograph for treatment planning dental implants.

Which X-rays will I need?

The X-ray which best suits your needs depends on what dental treatment you need. For instance, if you simply need a few cavities fixed, you require standard bitewing and periapical radiographs. If you need a tooth removed chances are you will require a panoramic X-ray. Most orthodontic treatments rely on a later ceph to identify important landmarks. Finally, if you need dental implants, you will most likely require a series of CT images of your jawbone.

If you have questions about which X-rays are right for you, schedule your appointment with us today. Call us at (949) 481-2540 or book your appointment online to get your treatment started.