Your Update on Dental X-Rays


There is a lot going on in your mouth, even when it is squeaky clean. There are things you can see, and things you cannot see. Dental X-rays, or radiographs as they are sometimes called, give your dentist the inside information on what is happening below the surface of your teeth and gums. 

Yes, Dental X-Rays Are Safe

For decades, dental patients have been concerned about the amount of radiation given off by dental X-ray machines. There has always been controversy about the safety of the machines. However, many studies provide information that the radiation level given off by well-maintained X-ray machines is very low. The newer digital X-ray machines give off even less radiation.

Your dentist takes precautions to ensure your safety. You will notice that a heavy “bib” or apron is always draped over your chest, abdomen, and pelvic area before an X-ray is taken. This is a lead shield that protects vital body organs from exposure to radiation. 

Even though dental X-ray radiation levels are low, it is still important to let your dentist know if you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant. Radiation in any amount is not safe for developing fetuses. 

Intraoral X-rays

Two types of dental X-rays allow your dentist to see what is happening beneath the surface. Most dental X-rays are intraoral. These provide information about cavities, the roots of the teeth, and the health of the bone. They are also used to monitor developing teeth. Visually, the teeth and gums may look fine, but underneath the surface, strange things could be going on.

The various types of intraoral radiographs show different views of the teeth and jaws.

  • Bite-wing X-rays are used to reveal details of the upper and lower teeth, most often molars and bicuspids. They show decay between teeth and problems with bone due to gum disease. Bite-wings may also be used to help determine the proper fit of a dental crown.
  • Periapical X-rays are used to show an entire tooth to the area of the jaw below the root.
  • Larger radiographs, called occlusal, also show full tooth development. These X-rays are used to check the development and placement of the complete lower or upper arch of teeth.

Extraoral X-rays

Extraoral X-rays also show what is happening with the teeth; however, the main focus with this type of radiograph is the health of the jaw and skull. Details about individual tooth health are not as clear on these types of pictures.

Extraoral X-rays are most typically used by oral surgeons and maxillofacial specialists to: 

  • Identify impacted teeth,
  • View the development of the jaws and teeth, and
  • Identify potential issues with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).  

There are several types of extraoral radiographs, and the one used most often by dentists is the panoramic X-ray. It is a long picture somewhat like the panoramic view on your smartphone camera. It shows the entire mouth with all the teeth and upper and lower jaws. It reveals impacted teeth, tumors, and other dental anomalies. 

Digital Imaging is State of the Art

Digital imaging is the newest in dental X-rays. Using this type of machine, your dentist takes the picture needed and it shows up on a computer screen. There is no time spent waiting for film to develop. The resulting image can be digitally stored or printed out. The computerized image can be enlarged to show enhanced detail for diagnosis. It can also be emailed to another dentist or specialist if needed.

Dr. Halim uses the latest technology, including digital imaging, to make your visit to the dentist as comfortable and safe as possible. Schedule your returning patient or introductory dental exam today and let us keep your smile bright and healthy. 

Remember, healthy teeth make a healthy smile!

Dr. Nishan Halim

Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in a comprehensive approach to dental care in his Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. When treatment plans include specialty work, he coordinates every step with the practitioners you choose from his referral network. Contact Dr. Halim to schedule an appointment.


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