Dental Xrays - everything you need to know - Savina dental clinics malta and gozo

At some point in life, you have probably visited the dentist’s office for various reasons. Sometimes, the dentist will need an X-ray of your teeth to treat you effectively. The following guide will explain everything you need to know about dental X-rays.

What are dental X-rays?

Dental X-rays are dental radiographs. Dental experts rely on these X-rays to identify various dental problems such as unerupted teeth, caries (cavities), non-vital (dead) tooth nerves, bone loss and even certain benign or malignant masses.

Dentists will also request dental X-rays to look at the patient’s hidden dental structures. Therefore, a dental X-ray is a radiographic image that radiologists obtain through a burst of regulated X-ray radiation.

The radiation penetrates through an oral structure at different angles. The level of penetration hinges on anatomical densities. And this helps to identify any irregular appearances in the dental structures in question.

Importance of dental X-rays

Some of the dental problems that people experience aren’t visible. On the outside, a tooth may look healthy while being decayed inside. Moreover, one may have some degree of bone loss or an infection in the root. This is where an X-ray comes in. It plays a paramount role in not only identifying the underlying dental problems but also helping treat them.

Dental X-rays help dental experts to detect and treat various dental conditions early before they progress into more issues that could be complex.

Looking for a dentist in Malta or have any dental related questions? You can book an appointment online or contact us directly on (+356) 2125 7253 (Skyparks Business Centre, Malta International Airport), or (+356) 2155 7323 (Dingli Street, Victoria, Gozo). For international patients, it is recommended to request a free e-consultation where we can discuss your individual case and treatment options.

How dental X-rays are performed

The patient is required to sit upright in the dental chair and the X-ray film or sensor is placed in the patient’s mouth for the picture. Use of lead aprons and thyroid collars are no longer routinely recommended unless the patient suffers from a particular medical condition (for example a history of cancer in the neck region).

Usually, most patients are comfortable throughout the process. However, if you have a small mouth or a hypersensitive gag reflex, placing the film in your mouth could be challenging. Although the process feels strange, it is not painful. For those with a gag reflex, it is prudent to tell the technician before the process starts.

Preparing for dental X-rays

A dental X-ray does not require special preparation. Nonetheless, knowing what to expect in radiology will put you at ease.

How often should teeth be X-rayed?

Patients with complex dental issues or advanced tooth decay can be X-rayed a few times a year. If you don’t have any advanced dental problems, then it is appropriate that you should be X-rayed every two to three years. Note that an X-ray is part of the preparation for various dental procedures.

Types of dental X-rays

There are two main types of dental X-rays; intra-oral and extra-oral.

Intraoral X-rays

During an intra-oral X-ray, the technician places the film in the patient’s mouth

These types of X-rays are further subdivided into bitewing X-rays, which capture the details from both the lower and the upper teeth. A bitewing X-ray captures a tooth from its crown to the bone that supports it.

An intra-oral dental X-ray is versatile. It captures various aspects of the teeth. Bitewing X-ray is good for detecting dental decay as well as checking if dental fillings are still intact. Some of the other types of intra-oral X-rays include occlusal X-rays and periapical X-rays, used to view teeth and their supporting structures as a whole.

Extra-oral X-rays

Extra-oral X-rays show dental problems that occur in the jaw and part of the skull. They are classified into panoramic X-rays, cephalometric projections, tomograms, sialograms, dental computed tomography, and so on.

Panoramic X-rays capture the entire mouth area. A single panoramic X-ray will provide details of both your upper and lower teeth. If an emerging tooth has a problem, your dentist might recommend this X-ray. Unlike the panoramic X-ray, a tomogram captures a section of your teeth.

Technicians use this X-ray to show a specific structure of your teeth that is usually difficult to access due to obstruction. A cephalogram is another type of X-ray that orthodontists use. Sialograms are used to investigate salivary glands. Technicians inject a special dye into the salivary gland so that they can be captured in the film. Dentists will use this type of extra-oral X-ray when treating dental issues such as dry mouth or a blocked salivary duct.

Any risks associated with dental X-rays?

Some of the major risks associated with X-rays, in general, include tumours. However, the amount of radiation in dental X-rays is very low. Therefore, the dangers associated with dental X-rays are extremely low. The American College of Radiology likens the amount of radiation emitted by one intra-oral X-ray to that we get from staying out for a few minutes in the sun. The amount of radiation emitted during a panoramic radiograph exposure is similar to that received on a 3-hour flight. Having said that, radiographs should still only be taken when deemed necessary.

Are dental X-rays safe?

The amount of radiation a patient is exposed to during an X-ray is quite small. In regards to that, health experts deem dental X-rays safe. Moreover, the natural radiation that comes from the environment is sometimes more dangerous than that from a dental X-ray.

Can I have a dental X-ray if I am pregnant?

When it comes to X-rays, pregnancy is always a sensitive issue because the rays could affect the unborn baby. Therefore, radiologists proceed with extra caution if the X-ray is absolutely necessary and normally only an intra-oral radiograph is taken as the radiation dose is low. However, if it is not necessary or the mother is in the first trimester of pregnancy, the dentists recommend avoiding an X-ray.

Do dental X-rays expose me to too much radiation?

During a dental X-ray, the radiologist exposes the patient to relatively small radiation. Therefore, you should not worry about being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

A dental X-ray is sometimes as important as any other kind of X-ray. Without it, the dentist may not be able to treat certain dental problems properly. Therefore, it is normal for your dentist to request various types of X-rays in the course of treatment. How often they can be taken hinges on your medical history and your dental condition. Some people only require a few x-rays throughout their life, while others need several.

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Savina Clinic – Dental & Implantology Centres are friendly, state-of-the-art practices in Malta and Gozo dedicated to comprehensive quality dental care. Savina Dental is an innovative dental practice in Malta and prides itself on the high-quality customer service, low waiting room times, attention to detail and the advanced dental technology at their disposal.

Joseph Xuereb
Principal Dental Surgeon & Owner of Savina Dental Clinics, Dr Joseph Xuereb BChD (Hons), MFGDP(UK), MGDS RCS(Eng), FFGDP RCS(UK), FICD is a general dental practitioner with a special interest in Implant and Restorative Dentistry. Dr Joseph & the teams' full biographical information can be found here.