You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Close [x]

Dental X-rays: What Do They Show?


When Do You Need X-rays?

Dental X-rays are a valuable diagnostic tool that are used to:

  • Plan dental implant treatment. Titanium dental implants are placed in your jaw and eventually bond to the surrounding bone. Bonding can't occur if the bone is too thin or weak. X-rays help your dentist determine if you are a good candidate for dental implants. In many cases, bone grafts can be added to strengthen and deepen the bone if it isn't thick enough.
  • Find the source of your pain. Whether you have a painful cavity or have developed an abscess or tumor, X-rays are invaluable in getting to the root of the problem. Once the problem has been identified, your dentist can offer treatment to relieve your pain.
  • Prepare for more complicated procedures. Before your dentist begins oral surgery or another complex procedure, he or she will want to take a few X-rays. X-rays will help him or her avoid nerves and will reveal any malformations, such as crooked teeth roots, that can make the procedure more difficult.

Have you ever wondered why dental X-rays are such an important part of your dental visits? Although visual examinations are important, they offer an incomplete picture of your dental health. X-rays help your dentist look beneath the surface to detect tooth decay and other hidden issues that could affect your oral health.

How Do X-rays Help My Dentist?

Dentist use X-rays to diagnose a variety of problems, including:

  • Cavities. Small cavities do not cause pain and usually are not visible when your dentist examines your mouth. X-rays are very useful in detecting these cavities. When cavities are in the early stages, you'll only need a small filling, which means that the amount of healthy tissue that needs to be removed will be limited. X-rays also reveal cavities that develop between teeth.
  • Abscesses. X-rays confirm the presence of abscesses or other infections. They can even help your dentist spot an abscess before it begins to cause pain, swelling and other symptoms. Without prompt treatment, the bacterial infection that causes a dental abscess can spread to other parts of your body.
  • Tumors and Cysts. Dental X-rays show tumors and cysts that can form below the gum line or in other parts of your mouth and jaw. Most tumors and cysts are benign, but some can be cancerous.
  • Bone Loss. Bone loss commonly occurs if you have advanced gum disease, although it can also happen for other reasons, such as an infection or tooth loss.

X-rays are also used to plan treatments or identify issues that could affect your oral health. Dentists use them to determine the condition of fillings, crowns, and bridges. They can also show impacted wisdom teeth, the absence of teeth, extra teeth beneath your gums, and malformed roots.

What Types of X-rays Does My Dentist Use?

Dentists commonly use four types of X-rays:

  • Bite-wing. Bite-wing X-rays are used to X-ray small sections of your upper and lower teeth. During this type of X-ray, you bite down on a piece of film or a sensor shaped like a wing. These X-rays show teeth from the crown (the portion above the gum line) to the jawbone.
  • Periapical X-rays. Dentists use periapical X-rays when they need to see the entire tooth from the root to the crown.
  • Occlusal X-rays. Occlusal X-rays show all of your upper or lower teeth.
  • Panoramic. During a panoramic X-ray, the machine rotates around your head. This type of X-ray is used when your dentist needs to see all of your teeth in one image. It's often used to help dentists get a good look at impacted teeth, determine if you your jawbone can support a dental implant or spot jaw problems.

Going Digital

Many dentists now use digital X-rays instead of traditional X-rays that must be developed. Because digital X-ray images are computerized, they are available in seconds. If your dentist notices an area of concern, he or she can enlarge, sharpen, and enhance the area on the computer screen to get a better look at the problem. When your dentist superimposes your previous digital X-rays onto your current X-rays, he or she can determine if there have been changes to your teeth since they last saw you.

Has it been a while since you have had X-rays or a dental exam? Call us today to schedule an appointment.


American Dental Association: X-rays


MedlinePlus: Dental X-rays, 2/25/14


Cleveland Clinic: Types of Dental X-rays

Our staff of dental professionals are dedicated to helping you achieve your dental wellness objectives. Thank you for subscribing to our dental wellness newsletter.

Go to top of page