Dental X-rays – What do they Show?

Dental X-rays are a wonderful tool of modern dentistry, because they can reveal potential weaknesses or infections in teeth that are not otherwise visible to the naked eye.

By using good X-rays, educated and qualified dental professionals can study the images and then interpret them to identify strengths and weaknesses, possible areas of infection or other trouble, and serious dental issues such as cavities, cracks, and gum problems.

What the X-rays cannot very effectively show or illuminate are areas within the mouth that are composed of softer tissue and less dense material. X-rays are great, however, for taking revealing pictures of hard substances including teeth and bones. Because most dentistry involves the teeth, X-rays are a resource or tool whose value cannot be underestimated. Take a quick X-ray, for example, and you can immediately spot a developing cavity in the tooth. You can also see how deep into the tooth the cavity extends, which means that the dentist can see how close it is to the center of the tooth where a cavity will rapidly accelerate into a much more dangerous and painful root canal infection.

If an infection has gone done into the core of the tooth and become a full-fledged root canal problem, the dentist can then use X-rays to find out if the problem is boring down into the jawbone. But X-rays are useful in other ways, too. They can help identify the position of wisdom teeth that are hidden from view beneath the gums and under other teeth, and they can show where “permanent” or adult teeth are developing below the surface and underneath baby teeth. When fillings are in teeth the X-rays show them clearly, and they also help to show if they are shifting out of proper position, corroding and curling around the edges, or are situated nicely to perform their job as they are meant to do. Not all cracks in teeth will show up clearly on an X-ray because some so-called hairline cracks are too thin and tiny to be seen, even with the help of X-ray images. But significant tooth cracks will show up on a decent X-ray image, and then the dentist can take the necessary steps to either repair the crack or cap it with a crown to prevent future problems.

In the days before the general use of X-ray machines in the dental industry, both the dentist and the patient were left literally in the dark, and much of the diagnostic work of dentists was left to educated guesswork. Problems might have been lurking beneath the surface of the patient’s tooth, in other words, but unless the patient experienced pain or discomfort those issues would go totally undetected. Then tooth problems would suddenly erupt out of nowhere, causing not only poor dental health but more dental work – because in order to repair teeth or stop the spread of infection that had been allowed to reach an advanced state the dentist had to do more significant treatment.

Dr. Kelaher

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