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Why are X-rays so important for dentists?

Xrays
X-rays are used to diagnose and communicate oral conditions

Dentists rely heavily on X-rays to diagnose dental problems. Dental cavities, gum disease, and most other oral lesions can only be detect with proper X-rays. Without taking X-rays, your dentist won’t be able to diagnose your cavities until it’s too late. X-rays are used to communicate with specialists, insurance companies, and other dental providers. Taking X-rays is an essential part of dentistry, which is why most dental visits start off by taking X-rays of your teeth.

What are some common X-rays used in dentistry?

Dentists use a few different types of X-rays for different purposes. Some X-rays are used to diagnose dental cavities, some used to visualize nerves and sinuses, while others are primarily for orthodontic diagnosis. Here are the four most common types of X-rays used to diagnose various dental conditions:

  • Periapical & bitewing X-rays
  • Panoramic radiograph
  • Lateral cephalometric
  • CT/CBCT scan

Here’s a bit more information about each type of X-ray used in dentistry:

Pericapical & Bitewing X-rays

Periapical-bitewing-xrays
Periapical and bitewin X-rays show lots of fine details, but each X-ray only captures a small region of your mouth.

Periapical and bitewing X-rays are those little X-rays that the dental assistant takes while you’re sitting in the dental chair. These X-rays show lots of fine details, but each one only captures a small region of the mouth. They are ideal for diagnosing dental cavities, tooth infection, and gum disease. Most periapical and bitewing X-rays cover only 2 to 3 teeth, therefore you need about a dozen X-rays to capture the whole mouth. Typically, most dentists take 10 to 20 periapical and bitewing X-rays on your initial visit, followed by 4 to 8 X-rays on future recall appointments.

Panoramic radiograph (Panorex)

panoramic-dental-radiograph
Panoramic X-rays capture your wisdom teeth, nerves & sinuses

Panoramic radiograph, abbreviated Panorex, is used to identify wisdom teeth, impacted teeth, sinuses, nerves, and TMJ. These X-ray provides your dentist with a broad overview of what your teeth, jaws and facial bones look like. Since Panoramic X-ray captures a large segment of your skull, they are very useful for oral surgery procedures like tooth extraction and dental implant placement.

Lateral Cephalometric

Lateral-cephalometric-ceph-xray
Lateral cephalometric X-ray shows the relationship between your upper and lower teeth

Lateral cephalometric X-rays are primarily used for orthodontic diagnosis. These X-rays show the relationship between your upper and lower teeth and jawbone.Most orthodontists use lateral cephalometric X-rays to monitor your orthodontic progress. They are also useful for diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea as well as certain ENT conditions.

Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)

CBCT Scan
CT and CBCT scans capture 3-D views of your skulls

CT and CBCT imaging captures 3-D views of your teeth and jawbone. 3-D images is ideal for identifying bone width, nerve location, and sinus position. CT images are taken prior to dental implant surgery to identify these important landmarks. In fact, a CT or CBCT scan is the only acceptable diagnostic radiograph for treatment planning most dental implant cases.

Which type of X-rays will I require?

It depends on what dental treatment you require. For example, if you simply need a few cavities fixed, then you’ll require bitewing and periapical X-rays. If you need your wisdom tooth extracted, then you will require a panoramic X-ray. Braces treatment of overbites and underbites usually requires a lateral cephalometic. Finally, dental implant treatment planning usually requires a CT or CBCT of your jawbone.

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