Kalaheo Dental Group
Dr. Michael Lutwin, DDS and Dr. Ron Quade, DDS

All About Dental X-Rays

June 18, 2020
Posted By: Kalaheo Dental Group
xray graphic

What is an x-ray?

An x-ray is a form of energy that travels through solid objects. Energy is absorbed by dense objects, like teeth or bone, and show up in x-rays as light-colored areas. While less dense objects, such as gums and cheeks, appear darker on an x-ray.

Why do I need an x-ray?

A patient with a broken leg would need an x-ray for the doctor to make a proper diagnosis to fix the break. This is much like what your dentist needs. In order for your dentist to have a complete picture of your dental status and to be able to make a proper diagnosis one or more x-rays may be taken.

Dentists use x-rays to diagnosis:

  • Areas of decay between teeth
  • Decay under existing fillings and crowns
  • Bone loss around teeth and in the jaw
  • Infections in roots and surrounding bone called an abscess
  • Cysts, tumors, and diseases of the bone
  • Erupting or impacted teeth below the gums
  • Fractured teeth or roots

What is my exposure for dental x-rays?

Radiation is not just something you get exposed to during an x-ray. Other sources of radiation are elevation, like flying in a plane or living above sea level.  We are also exposed to radiation from consumer products like cell phones, fluorescent lamps, computers, and even ceramics and glass. The current federal occupational limit of exposure is 5,000 millirems ( or 5 rem). 

These are the standard doses for dental X-rays:         (measured in microsieverts)

Intraoral radiation ( per exposure)                               <8.3

Full mouth x-rays series                                                 35

Panoramic                                                                      10

Cephalometric                                                               3 - 6

Flying from Los Angeles to Honolulu                            0.26

What are the different types of dental x-rays?

Bitewing x-rays show the detail of the upper and lower teeth in one area of the mouth. Each x-ray will show the tooth from the crown to just below the level of supporting bone. They are used mainly to detect decay between teeth, changes in the bone density caused by gum disease, and the proper fitting of a crown.

Periapical x-rays show the entire tooth from the crown to below the root. They are used to detect an abscess, fractured roots, and proper placement of a root canal.

Panoramic x-rays show the entire upper and lower jaws, the sinus and jaw joints. They are often used to reveal impacted 3rd molars (wisdom teeth) in young adults.

Cephalometric x-rays show the entire side of the head. This type of x-ray is often used by orthodontists to develop their treatment plans.

Helpful Resources:

  • https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/x/x-rays
  • https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/x-rays
  • https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/procedures/x-rays
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