A Closer Look at X-Rays
You probably recall your dental x-rays as the time your dentist or hygienist places a heavy apron over you, tells you to bite down on a piece of plastic and hold still. Maybe afterwards, your get to see the skeleton of your mouth! But what role do x-rays play in your dental health?
Thanks to x-rays, dentists can diagnose and treat many dental problems before you even know you have them. They give professionals the whole picture, as opposed to what lies only on the surface.
What are x-rays?
X-rays, also sometimes referred to as radiographs, are used across nearly all medical fields as a diagnostic tool, but are especially useful to dentists for their ability to indicate future complications. Like a radio wave, an x-ray is a type of energy that travels through soft tissue, but is absorbed by dense tissue. Teeth, like bones, are very dense, so the x-ray passes through your gums and cheeks and stops at your teeth, giving dentists a pretty clear picture of your jaw and the roots of your teeth, which is not visible to the naked eye.
There are two kinds of x-rays; intraoral and extraoral. Intraoral, x-rays taken inside the mouth, are the most common type used by dentists. These give a more detailed look at small details of the tooth, bone, and even certain tissue within your mouth. With the help of these pictures, dentists can identify cavities and other decay, examine tooth roots, check the development of new teeth, determine if or when wisdom teeth should be removed, and ensure the continuing health of your mouth by detecting and preventing problems early on.
My dentist can do all of that just by looking at a picture?
X-rays are a very useful tool, but dentists often require different views of your mouth depending on the care required. The most common types are periapical, bite-wing, occlusal and panoramic.
Periapical x-rays show the whole tooth; from the bone into which the tooth root grows all the way to the crown.
Bite-wing x-rays provide a picture of both lower and upper teeth near the back of your mouth. This view is useful for detecting decay between molars.
The Occlusal x-ray is used to show the bite of the upper and lower jaw. It also helps dentists to monitor the development of baby and adult teeth.
How often do I need x-rays?
This is largely up to your dentist. Depending on the health of your teeth, most dentists take x-rays every year or two when you go in for a regular check-up and cleaning. If you’re a new patient, a full series may be taken to use as a reference going forward. As you continue with regular appointments, fewer will be needed.
Remember to brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss regularly to avoid decay between teeth. If you keep up that important home care, your x-rays will reflect your hard work and you can leave your dentist appointment with a healthy smile!