How are X-rays Used?
X-ray images, also called dental radiographs, are among the most valuable tools a dentist has for keeping your mouth and teeth healthy. By understanding what the structures of the mouth look like normally on an X-ray film, dentists can diagnose problems in the teeth and jaws. For adults, radiographs can:
- Show areas of decay that your dentist may not be able to see with just a visual examination, such as tiny pits of decay that might occur between teeth
- Find decay that is developing underneath an existing filling
- Find cracks or other damage in an existing filling
- Alert the dentist to possible bone loss associated with periodontal (gum) disease
- Reveal problems in the root canal, such as infection or death of the nerve
- Help your dentist plan, prepare and place tooth implants, orthodontic treatments, dentures or other dental work
- Reveal other abnormalities such as cysts, cancer and changes associated with metabolic and systemic diseases (such as Paget’s disease and lymphoma)
- For children, radiographs are used to watch for decay and to monitor tooth growth and development. Dentists will use periodic X-rays to see whether a space in the mouth to fit all the new teeth, whether primary teeth are being lost quickly enough to allow permanent teeth to erupt properly, whether extra (supernumerary) teeth are developing or whether any teeth are impacted (unable to emerge through the gums).
How Often Should Your Teeth Be X-rayed?
Even though no X-ray can be considered routine, many people require X-rays on a regular basis so that their dental condition can be monitored. Exactly how often this happens will depend on your medical and dental history and current condition. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months. For others, X-rays may not be needed for as long as two years. In patients with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit the dentist regularly for check-ups, X-rays may be taken only every five years or so.
What is a digital X-ray?
Digital X-rays one of the newest X-ray techniques around. With digital radiographs, film is replaced with a flat electronic pad or sensor. The X-rays hit the pad the same way they hit the film. But instead of developing the film in a dark room, the image is electronically sent directly to a computer where the image appears on the screen. The image can then be stored on the computer or printed out. One of the great advantages of this process is that radiographs can be digitally compared to previous radiographs in a process called subtraction radiography. The computer can digitally compare the two images, subtract out everything that is the same and give a clear image of anything that is different. This means that tiny changes that may not be noticeable with the naked eye can be caught earlier and more clearly with digital-subtraction radiography. Subtraction radiography requires a specialized projection technique and additional software.