What are the different types of dental x-rays?

Umar Haque, DMD
X-Rays are an extremely important part of your dental evaluation, and they are vital to proper diagnosis and prevention of disease. The kinds of x-rays needed are based upon your age, your medical history, a thorough examination of the mouth, a TMJ evaluation, and an examination of the health of your gums.
Certain x-rays help dentists look at certain areas of teeth and bone:
  • Bitewing x-rays help dentists look at bone levels between teeth, cavities between teeth, and the health of the bone between teeth.
  • Periapical x-rays help dentists look at the root tips of teeth, the bone around teeth, abscesses, and other pathology.
  • Panoramic x-rays help visualize wisdom teeth, TMJ's, major pathology in the jaws and sinuses, and help see areas of missing teeth
  • CT scans allow for 3D visualization of teeth, 3D bone evaluation, airway evaluation, treatment planning dental implant sites or orthodontics, and pathology.
On your first visit, you may need a full series of dental x-rays including periapicals and bitewings; or a panoramic x-ray with bitewings; or a CT scan with bitewings. Consult with your dentist or hygienist before x-rays are taken to assure you are getting the right type of x-rays you need for your visit.

In order to keep radiation exposure to a minimum, ask your dental office if they use digital radiographic equipment (since it is 10-100x less radiation than traditional film x-rays) and if they use a proper lead shield. This will ensure you are getting the safest, yet still diagnostic care.
The following are the different types of dental radiographs (x-ray images):
  • Bitewing Radiograph shows several upper and lower teeth from one side of the mouth on one small image.
  • Periapical Radiograph shows several teeth and their roots and the jawbone they are in in a certain area of the mouth.
  • Complete Series is a series of bitewing and periapical radiographs that shows all the teeth, roots and related areas of the jaws.
  • Panoramic Radiograph shows all the upper and lower teeth, large portions of the jaws and other structures on one large image. When this kind of x-ray image is taken, no film is put inside your mouth. But this kind of x-ray image does not provide as much detail as smaller images.
  • Digital Radiograph
All of these types of images can be obtained digitally. The electronic image can be saved to a computer where the dentist can view it on the screen, store it in a patient's computer file and transmit it electronically to an insurance carrier or another dental office.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.