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Dentist Looking At X-ray Images

Seeing the invisible: Dental X-rays

When you go in for your twice-yearly check up, you expect an examination and a cleaning. While sitting in the chair, the dentist can examine your teeth, and a technician or hygienist can perform a cleaning. But what about the parts of the teeth that can’t be seen?

X-rays are important in dental exams because part of the tooth is hidden in the gums and jaw. There are also places that are difficult to see even if the dentist is using a mirror. If there is an issue, such as an infection or decay, the dentist may not be able to see it. Also, not all decay is visible to the naked eye. Therefore x-rays are necessary.

There are 2 basic types of x-rays used in the dental profession: intraoral and extraoral.

Intraoral x-rays are x-rays done on a single or small selection of teeth.

The most popular form of intraoral x-rays is called bitewings. These small x-rays show an image from the crown of the tooth to the region where the tooth meets the underlying bone structure. They are useful in detecting decay and changes in bone density from gum disease.

Other intraoral x-rays are Periapical and Occipital. These x-rays show different angles of the teeth and help diagnose other problems.

Most intraoral x-rays are quick and easy. The dental technician will position the chair then place the film in the patient’s mouth. Because x-rays use a small amount of radiation, the technical will drape a lead vest over the patient. Please inform your dentist if you are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant as x-rays should not be done at this time. Once the patient bites down and the film is secure, the technician will angle the camera for the appropriate x-ray. The technician triggers the camera, removes the film and begins to process the film. Because of the shape of the bitewings, some patients might feel some discomfort as the film rubs against the gums, but the technician will work as quickly as possible to ensure the x-rays are done without much discomfort.

Extraoral x-rays are used so the dentist can see more than just the tooth. These scans allow a dentist to observe the jaw, developing teeth and other mouth related structures.

The most used is the panoramic scan. Depending on the type of machine, the patient may sit or stand near the machine. The technician will adjust a headrest and ask the patient to bite down on a stick. The camera will move around the patient’s head. This process takes less than a minute in most cases. Again a lead vest will be used and please inform your dentist if you are pregnant.

Most dental offices now use digital software to develop the x-rays. It has many advantages including the ability to see if the x-ray shows the needed tooth, the ability to see it on a computer screen and x-rays can be sent to another office if necessary. The dentists can then evaluate your teeth, diagnose any decay and assist the patient in achieving a more beautiful smile.

This article brought to you by Watts Family Dental, your friendly Leawood Dentist. We’re committed to healthy smiles for the whole family. Please call (913) 338-3384 or visit our Overland Park, KS office. You may also send an e-mail direct to at any time.

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