Dental Imaging & Types of X-Rays


Dentists require imaging tests for a number of reasons. They’re used to check the health of your bones and teeth as well as the well-being of any fillings, crowns, or implants. But not all of these imaging tests are the same. What are the most common types of dental x-rays and what are they used for? We’ll answer that question in this article.

Intraoral X-rays

Intraoral x-rays use x-ray film inside of a patient’s mouth. For that reason, they generally require patients to bite down on an apparatus to ensure that the mouth section is properly exposed to the film and to prevent the film from moving around.

There are three types of intraoral x-rays. These include:

  • Bitewing X-rays – Bitewing x-rays are used to take an image of a part of your mouth. Patients are asked to bite down on a piece of plastic that holds the x-ray film against the upper and lower jaw. Newer models use small boxes that are wrapped in plastic.

    Your dentist may request a bitewing x-ray during your check-up. This type of x-ray can be useful for detecting decay, especially decay that begins between teeth. If your jawbone is suffering the ill-effects of periodontal disease, your dentist will be able to see that too. They are often used to determine the right fit for crowns, bridges, or other implants.
  • Periapical X-rays – Periapical X-rays are useful for capturing the image of an entire tooth. These x-rays can show the tooth all the way down to the root where it attaches to the jaw. They are particularly useful to show decay that has infected the root. They detect any unusual changes in the root surrounding the jawbone.
  • Occlusal X-rays – These are primarily used on children to detect impacted teeth or teeth that have yet to break through the gums. These can track the development of an entire arch of teeth.

Extraoral X-rays

As the name implies, these x-rays are taken outside the mouth. They are primarily used to detect problems in the jaw or skull.

  • Panoramic x-rays – These are used to show the entire mouth. Panoramic x-rays require a bite blocker to keep your mouth from moving but take a full image of the entire mouth. These are useful for showing the position of every tooth, including those that are impacted.
  • Cephalometric projections – These x-rays are used to show the placement of the jaw in relation to the teeth and skull. These are used when using clear aligners or braces to determine a strategy for realigning the teeth.

Doctors and oral surgeons may order other tests depending on their patient’s dental issues. Sometimes, the issues might be related to a cyst or other growth in soft-tissue that an x-ray wouldn’t pick up. MRIs and CT scans may be necessary to detect problems in the soft tissue that may be causing other problems in the mouth.

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