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Dental X-ray

How do dental x-rays work?

A Dental x ray is a medical procedure that’s used by a dentist to find medical conditions or issues within the mouth. This type of x-ray can easily identify ailments that a dentist cant properly see through a physical examination, like decay, cavities and abscesses.

Like standard x-rays, a dental x ray shines a small amount of radiation and electromagnetic energy beams into the area. These beams then print an image onto an x-ray film, hard matter, like a tooth, won’t allow the beams to penetrate it, so a tooth will show up white or light great in the x-ray, less dense matter, like a decay, will allow the beam to penetrate it, so it will show up as a dark image.

When it comes to dental x rays, there are two main types; intraoral and extraoral. An intraoral xray is when the film is inside the mouth and an extraoral x ray is when the film is outside the mouth.

Intraoral x rays are the most common type of dental x ray and show things like cavities, the health of the tooth root and the bone surrounding the tooth. Extraoral x rays aren’t as common, while this type of imaging procedure dose show teeth, it’s usually used to detect issues within the jaw and skull. This type of x ray is also commonly used to monitor the growth of wisdom teeth (usually called a panoramic x ray).

Why might you need a dental x-ray?

In order to get a dental x-ray, you will need to get a referral from a dentist or orthodontist. During this appointment you should discuss your symptoms with the doctor, and if they suspect an issue that can be diagnosed through a dental x-ray, then they will likely issue a dental x-ray. Below are some dental health issues and symptoms that may cause a dentist to order a dental x ray.

  • Shooting pain anywhere in your mouth

  • Long lasting pain or discomfort within your mouth

  • Swollen and/or red gums

  • Ulcers, sores, or tender areas in the mouth that won’t heal 

  • Bleeding or swollen gums after brushing or flossing

  • Chronic bad breath

  • Gum disease

  • Sudden sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures or beverages

  • Loose teeth

  • Receding gums

Below are a number of dental problems that an x ray can help diagnose.

  • New tooth decay

  • Decay beneath existing fillings.

  • Bone loss in the jaw.

  • Changes in the bone or root canal due to infection.

  • Preparation for tooth implants, braces, dental implants and dentures

  • Abscesses

  • Impacted teeth

  • Cysts

  • Some types of tumors

  • If wisdom teeth need to be removed

How to prepare for your dental x-ray

Prior to a dental x-ray – and any dental procedure or appointment – you should thoroughly brush your teeth to create a more hygienic environment for those working within your mouth. Aside from brushing, a dental x-ray doesn’t normally reply any other special preparation. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your dentist when they order the x-ray, as they may have measures that they’d like you to do.

It’s also generally recommended that you don’t eat or drink anything (aside from water) for around five hours before your appointment. This will help to stop anything food debris from getting lodged in between your teeth.

No matter where an x-ray is done on your body, all metal objects situated in the head region should be removed because these items obstruct the x-ray beams and will block the image of the area. This includes things like jewelry, headbands, bobby pins, hair clips, hearing aids and piercings. If you have any metal dental implants that aren’t able to be removed, you should let the technician know when you go in for your dental x-ray. While these things can be removed at the x-ray, removing them before your appointment will help to make the process faster.

What to expect from your dental x-ray

During the scan

When you arrive for your dental x ray, you will check in with the receptionist like any other medical appointment. Once this is done, and it’s your turn for your appointment, a staff member will take you through into the x-ray room.

Once in the room, you will sit up right in a dental chair. The dentist or technician will then place a lead apron on you, this is used to block the radiation exposure to other parts of your body that don’t need an x-ray. They will usually also wrap a thyroid collar around your neck which is used for the same purpose.

The dentist will then position you so that the x-ray machine can clearly captured images, and will give you an item to bite down on during the imaging test. The doctor will instruct you to do the following: keep your entire tongue on the item (called a hard palette) during the scan, and keep your lips together for the duration of the x-ray.

Once you’re positioned correctly, the dentist or technician will head into another room, or a sectioned off area, where they will take the images. It’s important to retain the position they put you in – one with good posture and a straight spine, so that images can be properly captured. It’s also vital that you stay completely still during the scan. If you move at all the images may be blurred.

After the dentist has taken the images then will usually ask you to wait a few moments to check if they are clear. If so, then your scan will be done and you’ll be able to head about your day as normal.

After the scan

A dental x-ray is a non invasive procedure, so there is nothing you need to do after the x-ray. However, in very rare cases a patient may have an allergic reaction to an x-ray, so if you notice any allergy symptoms at all, like hives or a rash, then you should let a dentist or doctor know immediately.

The images produced during a dental x ray are immediately available. But, a dentist may need a few days to analyse the image and diagnose conditions. Once they’re ready you will be contacted for a follow up appointment to discuss their findings and to determine a treatment plan. If the dental issue is urgent, like a severe abscess, then the dentist will likely prioritise your results and may be able to share them with you immediately.

What are the benefits of a dental x-ray?

Below are some reasons why spine x-rays are commonly used.

  • X rays are non invasive and painless.

  • X rays are very quick, in many cases your results will be available within a few days. If the patient is experiencing an emergency dental problem, like a sever abscess that leaves them with an agonising tooth ache, then a dentist can speed up the results and determine a treatment or surgery immediately.

  • They are very useful in detecting a number of conditions, and are an easy and effective way to determine if you have a decay or need an extraction.

  • They are relatively cheap, in comparison to a CT scan or a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI).


Are dental x-rays harmful to my health?

While the term radiation may sound scary, x-rays actually have very low radiation exposure. People actually already have radiation exposure in their everyday life. In fact, the radiation exposure in a hand x-ray is the equivalent amount of radiation an average human (who didn’t have an x ray) would be exposed to over a 10 day period.

How long does a dental x-ray take?

The imaging process – where the dentist takes the x-rays – usually only takes a couple of minutes. However, you should allow around 30 minutes for your x-ray appointment, to factor in consultation and preparation time.

How many dental x-rays are safe per year?

There is no exact number to the amount of radiation that’s safe – as this can depend highly on your size and underlying conditions. However, it’s generally recommended for grown adults to have around one dental x ray per year.

Can a dental x-ray affect pregnancy?

Dental x rays are safe to have when a patient is pregnant. In fact, due to the surging hormones pregnant women are actually more susceptible to contracting a gum disease because of swollen gums. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with a doctor (or in this case, a dentist) before undertaking any medical procedure when you’re pregnant.

Ready to make an appointment?

If you’d like to find out more information about our dental x ray treatments you can do so here. To book a consultation or to make an appointment to see a doctor, you can get in touch with our friendly staff at our clinic here.