Dental X-Rays Purpose, Procedure, and Risks

July 04, 2023 4 min read

Dental X-Rays Purpose, Procedure, and Risks

What are Dental X-rays?

Dental radiographs, also known as X-rays, show pictures of your teeth that dentists can use to monitor the health of your mouth. Low levels of radiation create an image of the patient's teeth and gums, and it's these X-rays that help dentists to determine problems or issues, such as tooth decay, within your mouth. 

X-rays can also tell whether there is bone loss or benign or malignant tumors. Dental X-rays are typically taken every year, however, those that are more vulnerable may be excluded from yearly X-rays due to health concerns. Children might require more frequent X-rays to keep track of their growing adult teeth, though.


What is the Purpose of Dental X-rays?

Dental X-rays are a standard procedure that’s usually performed for one of the following reasons:

  • To detect and assess dental decay that may be hidden between teeth.
  • To identify decay or other issues beneath existing dental fillings.
  • To assist in diagnosing dental problems such as infections, abscesses, and gum disease.
  • To evaluate the alignment and positioning of teeth and jaws.
  • To monitor the growth and development of adult teeth in children.


What are the different types of dental X-rays?

There are various types of dental X-rays that dentists use to obtain detailed images of the teeth, jaw, and surrounding structures. 

These X-rays can be categorized into two main types:

  • Intraoral (inside the mouth)
  • Extraoral (outside of the mouth)

Intraoral X-rays involve placing the film or sensor inside the patient's mouth. They provide detailed images of specific areas of the mouth, focusing on individual teeth or sections.

There are three common types of intraoral X-rays:

  1. Bitewing X-rays: This name comes from the wing-like object that patients bite down on to position their mouth. These X-rays capture the upper and lower teeth in a specific region of the mouth. Bitewing X-rays are helpful in identifying tooth decay between the teeth and detecting changes below the gum line.
  2. Periapical X-rays: The word “periapical” refers to the area around the tooth. This type of X-ray displays the entire tooth, from the crown to the root tip. It helps dentists detect tooth decay, gum disease, bone loss, and other abnormalities affecting the tooth and surrounding bone.
  3. Occlusal X-rays: The term “occlusal” refers to the back molars and chewing teeth. It is used to better understand how the whole arch of your teeth meet up and close. This is useful for diagnosing impacted or fractured teeth, evaluating the roots of front teeth, and identifying cysts, abscesses, or jaw fractures. Occlusal X-rays are commonly used in pediatric dentistry to assess developing teeth.


Extraoral X-rays, on the other hand, involve placing the film or sensor outside the patient's mouth. These X-rays provide an overview of the entire oral and facial structures.


Some common types of extraoral X-rays include:

  1. Panoramic X-rays: Panoramic X-rays capture a wide view of the entire mouth, including the upper and lower teeth, jaw joints, nerves, sinuses, and supporting bone. Dentists use these X-rays to identify existing oral health issues and evaluate the overall condition of the mouth.
  2. Cephalometric X-rays: Cephalometric (a Greek word that literally means to measure the head) X-rays capture the side view of the patient's head. They help dentists assess the position of the teeth in relation to the jaw. Orthodontists often utilize cephalometric X-rays to plan and monitor orthodontic treatments.
  3. Cone beam CT scan: This advanced imaging technique uses an x-ray beam in the shape of a cone to grab multiple views and then put these together to generate 3D images of the teeth, jaws, joints, nerves, and sinuses. Cone beam CT scans are highly detailed and useful for detecting tumors and facial fractures and assessing the dimensions and position of the jawbone for dental implant placement.


Discover More: What Is Dentophobia (Fear of the dentist) or Dental Anxiety


Process of Taking Dental X-Rays

Taking dental X-rays is a routine procedure performed by dentists to assess the health of your teeth and gums. Here is a brief overview of the process:

  • No special preparation is needed for dental X-rays.
  • Brush your teeth before the appointment for a clean and hygienic environment.
  • X-rays are usually taken before scaling and deep cleaning during routine teeth cleaning.
  • Sit comfortably in the dental chair and wear a lead vest covering your chest and lap.
  • The dental x-ray machine will be positioned to capture images of your mouth.
  • Intraoral or extraoral images will be taken based on the dentist's requirements.
  • The dentist will examine the images for any abnormalities or dental problems.
  • Treatment options will be discussed if cavities or other issues are found.


What are the benefits and risks of dental radiography?

Radiography simply means to write (graph) using rays or radiation. So, a x-ray will use radiation to create, generate or write an image. This is very useful for diagnosis as now a health practitioner can “see” inside a tooth, bone or your body.

  • Benefit: Detects Small Damages - Dental radiography enables dentists to identify small amounts of decay in hard-to-see areas, preventing the problems from escalating.
  • Risk: Causes Tumors to Develop - Exposure to radiation in dental radiography can potentially damage cells and lead to tumor development.
  • Benefit: Finds Bone Infections- Dental radiography can be used to detect infections in the jaw bones.
  • Risk: Causes Pregnancy Problems - Dental X-rays carry a small risk to developing fetuses, which is why caution is exercised when performing them on pregnant women.





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