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dental x-ray

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Site of dental X-rays

X-Ray of Mouth with Impacted Tooth

Dental X-rays

Alternative Names
dental radiograph

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 dentist 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, (e.g. an OPG). 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 dentist can provide specific information about the type of x-ray used. People should remove any jewellery 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 considered. If the x-ray is definitely needed to diagnose a specific infection or condition during pregnancy, measures will be taken to protect the baby.

What do the test results mean?
Dental x-rays may reveal:
  • tooth decay
  • bone loss due to gum disease
  • abscesses
  • 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 erupt normally or are blocked.

Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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