What Are the Most Common Forms of Dental X-Rays?

Dental x-rays help your dentist to keep your teeth in tip-top shape. Dental x-rays are also an important part of protecting your dental health.

There are a few different types of dental x-rays you should get as part of routine dental care.

Two main categories of dental x-rays exist. They are intraoral x-rays and extraoral x-rays.

With the intraoral type, the film is placed in the mouth. With extraoral x-rays, films are placed outside of the mouth.

Intraoral x-rays are the most common type performed. They give your dentist a lot of insight into what is going on in your mouth. Specifically, they can tell:

  • Whether you have cavities
  • The condition of the roots of your teeth
  • Health of the bone around your teeth
  • How teeth that have yet to come in are developing

Within the intraoral x-ray class, there are specific types. These include:

Bite-wing x-rays

These x-rays focus on the top – or crowns – of the back teeth and help your dentist identify decay between back teeth. To take them, you will bite down on a wing-shaped device that holds the dental film. Generally, your dentist will take one or two bite-wing x-rays on each side of your mouth. The x-ray will show your upper and bottom molars and bicuspids (the teeth in front of the molars).

Periapical x-rays

Generally, these x-rays to look at a couple of teeth at most. They are taken very much like bite-wing x-rays and show the full tooth—from crown to root. If your dentist is curious or concerned about your entire dental health, he or she may get an FMX – full radiographic survey – of your mouth that looks at all teeth in this same full crown to root manner, using both bite-wing and periapical x-rays.

Occlusal x-rays

These are large x-rays, showing the full arch of upper or lower teeth, and are typically used for children whose teeth are developing.

Extraoral x-rays:

Again, these type of dental x-rays are done with the film outside of the mouth and provide a more comprehensive overall picture. They do show the teeth, but also the jaw and skull. They can make sure growth and development are on track, impacted teeth, the relationship between the teeth and jaws, and the face bones.

Extraoral x-rays aren’t as detailed as intraoral and thus, aren’t typically used for identifying cavities or individual tooth problems.

Panoramic x-rays show the entire mouth on one x-ray—including teeth on upper and lower jaws.

A special machine is used that emits x-rays behind the head while the film circles the front of the head. Positioning is key and so there may be devices or mechanisms to hold the head and jaw in place.

Digital x-rays:

Digital x-rays are somewhat new. Instead of film, a flat or electronic pad or sensor is used. The x-ray is then sent to a computer.

There are also a few different other types of specialty x-rays but the ones mentioned above are the most common. Watch for a coming post on how often you should get x-rays and x-ray safety!


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