Dental X-rays explained.

Dental X-rays explained.

You probably know the importance of regular dental check-ups for effective preventative dental care. Dental X-rays are an essential part of the dental examination so you can be sure that your teeth don’t just look healthy, but they are healthy.

Dental X-rays can be used to diagnose dental issues and develop a treatment plan. They can also be used to assist in preventative care to diagnose oral conditions in the early stages before they develop into more significant problems.


There are several types of X-rays that are used regularly within a dental care environment. Depending on your individual needs, your dentist or hygienist will decide which X-rays will be needed to assess your dental issues. Sometimes an overall screening X-ray is useful as part of a general check-up and to monitor changes in your dental health over time.

These include:


  • Bitewings: used for screening purposes, assessing and diagnosing dental caries and periodontitis;
  • Periapical or PA: used to check for signs of infection, abscesses or other abnormalities at the root of the tooth or around implants. These types of X-rays are also used during root canal treatment.
  • Occlusal: used to assess damage from trauma. They may also be used for children when checking eruption of permanent teeth


  • Panoramic or OPG: used for particularly for orthodontics in assessing the entire mouth, including jaws and jaw joints, erupting teeth and wisdom teeth. It also assists in assessing severity of periodontitis (bone loss), viewing nasal and sinus cavities.
  • Lateral Cephalometric: used in orthodontic assessment and treatment planning. This type of X-ray produces a side on view of the entire head.
  • CBCT (cone beam CT): used for assessment of bone prior to implant placement, and determining position of wisdom teeth & impacted teeth prior to removal.


Your dentist or hygienist will determine on an individual basis how often you should have X-rays taken.

For example, if you are at higher risk for dental caries or other oral problems, you may need to have X-rays taken more regularly. If however, you have a good standard of oral health and are at low risk for dental disease, you will most likely only need to have X-rays taken every few years.

If your dentist is concerned about a particular issue, they may require X-rays to ensure that there aren’t any underlying causes that should also be addressed.


New technology has meant that dental X-rays are now safer than ever and the benefit to having dental X-rays taken generally outweighs the minor risk.

Many dental practices now use digital imaging, which means the dose of radiation is reduced by up to 80% compared to analogue films. While the X-ray machine can be quite large, the radiation is actually condensed into a small beam, focusing on a specific area of the mouth.

Generally, the radiation exposure from intra-oral X-rays is similar to one day outside with exposure to naturally occurring, or background radiation.

If you are pregnant, the dentist or hygienist may take into consideration other factors such as risks to the foetus, before taking X-rays, and may delay taking X-rays until after the baby is born.


It is important to understand what the role X-rays play in your dental care. They can be used to diagnose conditions or assist in determining underlying dental issues. These conditions include:

  • Dental caries (tooth decay) between the teeth or under existing fillings;
  • Periodontitis (gum disease & bone loss);
  • Signs of infection at the roots of the teeth;
  • Root fractures or other conditions after trauma to a tooth;
  • Developmental abnormalities and the status of developing teeth within the bone;
  • The presence of abscesses or cysts.

Keep in mind, if you have the option to include X-rays in your dental plan, that they form an integral part of your overall preventative dental care plan.

Ask your dental health professional if you have concerns or would like to ask about X-rays that you might require.

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