Why are dental x-rays useful and what do they show?

15 December · 6 minutes

It is not always possible to see what is going on in a patient's mouth without the use of an x-ray. If you are experiencing discomfort in your mouth, you usually go see your general dentist. However, it is not always possible for your dentist to diagnose a particular problem without the use of teeth x-rays to see beyond the surface of your teeth. In order to assess your condition and detect possible pathologies, a dental x-ray is used to hone in on the exact problem and determine how to solve it. That being said, it is important to know that not all dental x-rays are the same, nor do they serve the same purpose. We are going to dive into the different types of dental x-rays that exist, what each specific imaging tool is used for, and which ones are necessary for orthodontic treatment.

What is a dental x-ray?

A dental x-ray is a tool frequently used by dentists to evaluate your overall oral health. The images of your teeth captured with a dental x-ray allows dentists to assess the baseline condition of your teeth and detect any problems or pathologies.

What do teeth or dental x-rays show and what is its purpose?

A dental x-ray is used as a diagnostic test that shows images of the jaw and jawbone, as well as the inside of the teeth in one shot. They are utilized by a dentist to assess the condition of a patient's mouth and determine if there is any treatment needed. The purpose of a teeth x-ray is to show high-precision imaging that allows the dentist to clearly identify problems such as cavities or other infections in the teeth, the state of the wisdom teeth, and detect problems in the jaw.

doctor showing a dental x-ray to a patient

Breaking down different types of dental x-rays

When it comes to dental radiographs there are several types that are used for specific functions. We will look at the different types of dental x-rays based on what information is needed by the provider. There are two types of dental x-rays: extraoral x-rays (those taken outside the mouth) and intra-oral x-rays (those taken inside the oral cavity).

Types of extraoral radiography

Extraoral x-rays are images taken outside the oral cavity or mouth. There are two different types of extraoral radiography that are most commonly used:

  • Orthopantomography (also known as panoramic dental x-rays)
  • Teleradiography or cephalometric x-rays

Let’s talk about panoramic dental x-rays or orthopantomography

A panoramic dental x-ray, also known as orthopantomography, is one of the most common types of teeth radiography. The imaging captured provides a general and panoramic view of the entire oral cavity allowing dentists to detect problems that cannot be identified in an ordinary examination. Panoramic radiographs uses a special x-ray machine that rotates around the patient’s head to provide a detailed and comprehensive view of the mouth. From a panoramic x-rays of the teeth, you are able to see the bone structure (teeth, upper jaw, and lower jaw) in a single image. Additionally, an orthopantomography can accurately detect certain pathologies in the roots of the teeth, tumors, and abscesses. This type of dental x-ray is usually carried out before a patient begins orthodontic treatment. Before a patient begins treatment, it is important for a dentist to detect caries, unerupted wisdom teeth, jaw fractures, or any other problems in the development of the teeth with panoramic dental x-rays. This information is essential before starting any orthodontic treatment.

panoramic x-ray machine

Now, let's talk about cephalometric x-rays or lateral cephalogram

A cephalometric x-ray or lateral teleradiography of the skull is an imaging technique used to determine the position of the bones in the skull. How your bones are positioned in your skull can directly influence the position of your teeth.

A ceph x-ray uses a cranial analysis technique that obtains information on the dimensions of the skull and jaw and allows your doctor to see the distances between different dental and maxillofacial structures (this includes bones, teeth, muscles, or soft tissues). Ceph x-rays are used specifically to identify possible malocclusions and to help plan subsequent orthodontic treatment.

Now we’ll move on to types of intraoral x-rays

An intraoral x-ray is a type of imaging taken inside the mouth and is mainly used to find out more about the condition of your teeth (from the outside). Let’s dive into the different types of intraoral radiography.

First, there are occlusal dental x-rays

An occlusal dental x-ray is used to study the relationship between the two arches of the mouth. In order to understand what an occlusal dental x-ray is, we must know that occlusion refers to the alignment of the teeth and how the upper and lower teeth fit together. This type of x-ray is used to provide an image of the complete dental arch and is performed using radiographic plates.

Next, is periapical x-rays

Periapical x-rays, or intraoral periapical radiographs,are used to isolate one or more teeth to capture a more accurate image. This type of x-ray is used to diagnose caries and other diseases.

To perform an intraoral periapical radiography, different-sized x-ray plates are used to capture images of the teeth. The way this imaging is captured allows your dentist to see the crown, root, bone tissue, and periodontal space in their entirety.

Now let’s discuss bitewing x-rays

A bitewing x-ray is mainly used to detect caries, evaluate the state of the periodontal tissue, and detect possible dental pulp alterations. The imaging is called a dental bite-wing x-ray because the x-ray plate has a tab that must be placed between the two dental arches so that it does not move. This particular type of teeth radiography can locate caries found in the space between two teeth. Additionally, this type of x-ray is especially recommended for children, as this type of imaging does not require sticking the x-ray film to the floor of the mouth. This allows the for a more faster and comfortable experience than other types of dental radiography. Another advantage of the bite-wing x-ray is there is a lower exposure to radiation. 

The future of digital dental x-rays

The previous x-rays are the best known to date. However, as we continue to experience technological advances in orthodontics so do the types of x-rays and imaging we are able to offer our patients. At Impress, we use a Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT) or dental CT scan.

What is a CBCT (Cone Beam Computer Tomography) Scan?

A dental cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scan, or 3D digital dental x-ray, is a type of x-ray that uses a particular kind of technology to generate 3D images of dental structures, soft tissues, nerve paths, and bone in the craniofacial region all in one single scan. The images created with the CBCT scan allow for more precise treatment planning and give your expert doctor a deeper understanding of your teeth in relation to the rest of your jaw. With the 3D digital dental x-ray, a beam in the shape of a cone is moved around the patient’s head to produce all the images (and views) needed to create a 3D model. The images produced with the cone beam are high-quality and very detailed.

Why is a CBCT scan used at Impress?

Our Impress Lab Technology is deeply rooted in the imaging we receive from a CBCT scan. The precise detail of a patient's teeth, jaw, gum, and nerves allow our licensed doctors to design the most exact treatment plans to keep teeth healthy and safe while moving them accurately. At Impress, we use the CBCT x-ray in combination with the 3D intraoral scan, so we have a deeper understanding of what is happening from the surface to the roots of a patient‚Äôs teeth.  

Is there anything else a CBCT scan can diagnose?

Because the Cone Bean CT scan captures an in-depth view of your teeth, jaw, gums, nerves, and sinuses‚ÄĒit can also assist in detecting and diagnosing many other diseases and/or complications. These include:

  • Airway sleep disorders like sleep apnea
  • TMJ
  • Bone cancer, tumors, or cysts
  • Fractures
  • Tooth root infections, root canals, or other problems with the core of the tooth
  • Gum issues
  • Nasal anatomy, including the septum, turbinates, and sinuses
  • Conditions affecting your jaw, gums, and breathing

Are there any other benefits?

  • The focus of the x-ray beam reduces overall scatter radiation, resulting in better image quality and exposure to radiation.
  • A single scan prodcues vairous views and angles that can be manipulated to provide a complete evaluation of the teeth and jaw.
  • Cone beam CT scans provide more information than the conventional dental x-ray, allowing for more precise orthodontic treatment planning.
  • A CBCT scan is non-invasive, painless, and highly accurate.
  • A significant advantage of a CT is the ability to image both bone and soft tissue in the same frame.

Combining orthodontics with x-rays

We always recommend having an x-ray prior to starting orthodontic treatment with braces or aligners. The imaging allows us to detect, diagnose, and treat conditions in the mouth. 

panoramic x-ray

What type of x-ray comes before braces and aligners treatment? X-rays for orthodontics

Before beginning your orthodontic treatment, we recommend completing a dental check up with your general dentist. Orthopantomography is most commonly used to provide a panoramic view of the mouth before beginning orthodontic treatment.

Is it possible to put braces or aligners without an x-ray first?

Long and short, no, it is not safe putting braces without x-ray. At Impress, it is imperative to have a full oral checkup completed by your general dentist (this usually includes an x-ray) before you begin your orthodontic journey. Once your oral health is checked, you will take a CBCT x-ray at your free consultation at an Impress clinic.  

At Impress we only use the latest dental x-ray tech

Our top priority is the care and well-being of our patients. As experts in oral health, we ensure that every patient starts orthodontic treatment with proper dental and gum health.

If you are interested in improving your smile and beginning orthodontic treatment, at Impress, we have the experts and tools to take the necessary imaging before you begin.

In all of our clinics, we take CBCT x-rays. If you are ready to start treatment or have questions about our treatment, please contact us by booking an appointment through our website, or by phone at 888.490.1421.

We hope to see you soon to start your smile journey!

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Dental x-ray FAQ

Are x-rays bad for you?

Thanks to technological advances, x-rays are very safe. As technology has advanced the levels of radiation in teeth x-rays has decreased and is very localized. This, along with the protective garments/elements that patients wear means that having x-rays is not bad for you, for both children and adults.

Can you take an x-ray during the orthodontic treartment with braces?

It is safe to take an x-ray during orthodontic treatment with braces.

Where can I get a panoramic dental x-ray?

Yes. Every patient who comes in for their free consultation will have a CBCT x-ray taken.

Is it safe to take a dental x-ray during pregnancy?

Because the levels of radiation from an intraoral or extraoral x-ray are extremely low, dental x-rays while pregnant are allowed. However, it is up to your doctor to determine whether it is absolutely necessary to take the imaging. If you are or think you may be pregnant, do not forget to tell your doctor before the dental x-ray is taken.


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