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Why are X-rays so important to dentists?

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

Dentists rely heavily on X-rays to diagnose hidden dental problems. Dental cavities, gum disease, and most other oral lesions can only be detected with proper radiographs. Without taking X-rays, your dentist won’t be able to diagnose cavities until it’s too late. Sometimes infections don’t manifest any symptoms and can only be diagnosed by appropriate X-rays. We also use X-rays 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 tooth/teeth.

What are some common X-rays used in dentistry?

Dentists use different X-rays for different purposes. Some X-rays are used to diagnose dental cavities. Some are used to visualize your nerve canals and sinuses. Others are used for orthodontic diagnosis. Here are the most common types of X-rays we use 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. Periapical and bitewing X-rays are ideal for diagnosing dental cavities, tooth infections, and gum disease. Most periapical and bitewing X-rays cover 3 to 4 teeth, which explains why you need a dozen or so to capture the whole mouth. We typically take 10 to 14 periapical X-rays and 4 bitewing X-rays on your initial visit. This provides us with a full view of your teeth and jawbone. This is followed by an additional 6 to 8 X-rays for future recall appointments to diagnose any new issues that your teeth may be facing.

Panoramic radiograph (Panorex)

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

Panoramic radiographs, abbreviated Panorex, are used to visualize wisdom teeth, impacted teeth, sinuses, major nerves and arteries. It can also assist with diagnosing Temporomandibular Joint problems. Panoramic X-rays provide your dentist with a broad overview of what your teeth, jaws, and facial bones look like. Panoramic X-rays capture a large segment of your skull and are very useful for oral surgery procedures like tooth extraction and dental implant placement. They are not useful for diagnosing individual cavities or gum disease. Therefore, Panorex X-rays are not a replacement to traditional radiographs.

Lateral Cephalometric

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

Lateral cephalometric X-rays are used for orthodontic diagnosis. These X-rays show the relationship between your upper and lower teeth/jawbone from a lateral perspective. Orthodontists use lateral cephalometric X-rays to monitor your progression based on your jaw relationship. These X-rays are also used for the 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/or CBCT imaging captures 3-D views of your facial sturture. 3-D images are ideal for identifying bone width, nerve location, and sinus position. CT images are typically taken prior to dental implant surgery to identify important landmarks. In fact, a CT or CBCT scan is the only acceptable diagnostic radiograph for treatment planning most dental implant cases. This is because of the fact that CT scans capture the thickness of your bone, something that 2-D X-rays can not accomplish.

Which type of X-rays will I require?

It all depends on which dental treatment you need. For example, if you need a couple of cavities fixed, then you’ll probably require bitewing X-rays and periapical X-rays. If you need your wisdom tooth removed then you require a panoramic X-ray. Braces treatment of overbites and underbites requires a lateral cephalometric. Dental implant treatment planning usually requires a CT or CBCT along with other radiographs. Our dentist will discuss your issues to determine which X-rays are the most appropriate for your diagnosis.

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