Dental X-rays – also known as dental radiographs – are used by dentists and specialists every day to diagnose and treat patients. They can help to assess the general health of your teeth and investigate specific problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.
There are two main types of X-ray: intraoral and extraoral.
Intraoral X-rays are the most common and involve placing the X-ray film inside your mouth. Intraoral X-rays include bite-wing X-rays, occlusal X-rays and periapical X-rays.
Intraoral X-rays can provide us with an excellent level of detail on your teeth, gums, roots and supporting bone. For example, we can identify changes to your bone density, which could be the result of gum disease and detect tooth decay that would otherwise be hidden between two teeth.
Extraoral X-rays show us the bigger picture, including your jaw and skull. Different types of extraoral X-rays include panoramic X-rays, tomograms, cephalometric projections and CT scans.
Extraoral X-rays are usually used to assess the development of your jaw; identify impacted teeth; study the relationship between your teeth and jaws; and examine the surrounding bones and joints. They can be particularly helpful prior to orthodontic treatment and dental implants.
Dental X-rays and radiation
Dental X-rays have been hugely beneficial to dentists and patients over the years and allow us to detect problems early and act before they develop into something more serious. However, they do emit a relatively small dose of radiation, so they should only be prescribed when necessary and not as a matter of routine.
This radiation can understandably be a cause of concern for some patients, but rest assured the dose of radiation is very, very small. Over recent years dental X-rays have become more sophisticated and radiation levels have decreased thanks to better targeting, faster film and digital technology. Digital X-rays in particular have reduced radiation levels considerably.
You might be surprised to see how the dose of radiation from a dental X-ray compares to other sources:
Source of exposure
- Dental X-ray
- 100g of Brazil nuts
- Chest X-ray
- Transatlantic flight
- UK average annual radiation dose
- Level at which changes in blood cells can be readily observed
- 0.005 mSv
- 0.01 mSv
- 0.014 mSv
- 0.08 mSv
- 2.7 mSv
- 100 mSv
Cone-beam computed tomography
More recently, we’ve seen the introduction of cone-beam computer tomography, which produces three-dimensional images of your teeth and jaws. These can be very useful for treating complex cases and planning certain treatments such as dental implants, but they emit more radiation than a standard X-ray so again they should only be used when necessary – when they offer a clear benefit over a standard X-ray.
We hope we’ve reassured you that dental X-rays are extremely safe when used correctly and their benefits far exceed the potential risks.