A dental x-ray is a picture of the teeth, surrounding bones and soft tissue that is taken using radiation.
Who is a candidate for the test?
People with oral diseases or injuries to the mouth, teeth or jaw usually require x-rays. X-rays are also used to screen healthy people for tooth decay and gum disease.
How is the test performed?
X-rays are usually taken in a dental office using a dental x-ray machine. This machine allows the dental professional to position it for the best view of individual teeth and supporting bone.
First, a soft dental film is placed inside the mouth. The x-ray machine is positioned outside the cheek to project the image of the teeth onto the film. The film is developed using special chemicals to reveal the black and white "negative" image.
New developments include digital radiography, in which the film is digitally processed. Other types of x-rays may require special machines and different procedures. These x-rays are used with orthodontics, or dentistry that focuses on crooked or badly aligned teeth. People who may need or have had surgery in their mouth may also need special types of dental x-rays.
What is involved in preparation for the test?
The dental professional can provide specific information about the type of x-ray used. People should remove any jewelry or dentures that would interfere with the x-rays.
Women who are or might be pregnant should let the dentist know before the x-rays are taken. If the x-ray is needed to diagnose a specific infection or condition during pregnancy, measures will be taken to protect the unborn baby such as covering the chest and abdomen of the mother with a lead apron.
What do the test results mean?
Dental x-rays may reveal:
- tooth decay
- bone loss due to gum disease
- abscesses, or a pocket of pus surrounded by swollen gums
- cysts, or a closed sac filled with fluid or semisolid matter
- the absence of certain teeth
- problems with the way new teeth will erupt
- other problems affecting the teeth and gums
Wisdom teeth are also easily checked with dental x-rays to see if the teeth will come in normally or are blocked.