Have you ever wondered what your dentist sees when they look at your dental x-rays? Or why they make you do dental x-rays almost every time you visit their office? While dental x-rays may look like random light smudges on a black background, they actually tell your dentist many important things about your teeth. In fact, they can even help your dentist see things that they may not have noticed during your oral exam or things that they simply cannot see because of their location.
Because of their importance, many dentists recommend having dental x-rays done 1-2 times per year during your semi-annual dental exam. When having dental x-rays taken, you can expect to have multiple pictures taken at a variety of angles that capture both the inside and outside of your mouth. This allows your dentist to get as much information from your x-rays as possible to ensure your teeth are in good condition. When your dentist looks at your dental x-rays, here are some of the things they may find:
It should come as no surprise that your dentist can detect tooth decay on dental x-rays. Various degrees of tooth decay can be found on a dental x-ray, ranging from the earliest sign to an abscess caused by a pulp infection. It is also possible to find tooth decay in areas that your dentist was not able to see during your visual exam, such as in between the teeth. Knowing where tooth decay is, as well as how far it has progressed allows your dentist to develop an effective treatment plan for restoring the affected tooth.
Impacted Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth generally start to erupt in the late teens and early twenties. Unfortunately, it is relatively common for wisdom teeth to become partially or completely impacted underneath the gums, meaning they are unable to erupt properly. Not only does this cause a good amount of discomfort, but it can also cause an infection or damage to the surrounding teeth. Dental x-rays allow your dentist to evaluate the position of your wisdom teeth before they even start to erupt. Based on what your x-rays show, your dentist can determine if they will erupt properly or if an extraction is needed.
Teeth can be lost for any number of reasons and one or more missing teeth can affect the health of your jawbone. This is because approximately six months after a tooth is lost, the body starts to leech bone from the jaw and distribute it to other parts of the body. The longer this continues, the less bone mass your jaw will have. Eventually this can cause the jaw to change shape and can even affect the surrounding teeth. Luckily there are many options for replacing missing teeth and dental x-rays can help your dentist to determine what options are available for you.
Just as your natural teeth wear down over time, so do dental restorations. However, dental restorations wear down much faster than your natural teeth and will need to be replaced to prevent them from failing or falling out. Your dentist uses both a visual exam and dental x-rays to determine if a restoration needs to be replaced. This is because dental x-rays can show decay around or underneath the restoration, which shows that the restoration needs to be replaced.
Cysts or Tumors
In rare cases, dental x-rays can also detect cysts or tumors that have formed below the gums. Cysts are often discovered in coordination with impacted wisdom teeth and will usually be removed at the same time as the tooth.