Common Types of Dental X-rays (And Why You Need Them!)

Dental X-rays are an invaluable tool because they show us things that we can’t see just by looking in your mouth. These films reveal structures like your jaw bone, the roots of your teeth, and their nerve tissue, just to mention a few of the things we’re looking at.

Digital X-rays are particularly helpful when we’re trying to diagnose a problem. For example, if you’re experiencing pain in a certain area and there’s nothing that stands out during your exam, X-rays can reveal decay or an infection that wouldn’t have been noticed otherwise.

There are four common varieties of X-rays that we use. These include bitewings, periapicals (PAs), panorex, and a 3-dimensional dental cat-scan cone-beam image. Each of these radiographs  has a purpose and allows us to properly diagnose specific dental conditions. Here is a breakdown of what each film is used for and why you might need one:

Bitewing X-Rays

Cavities forming between your teeth is very common and typically occur because of a lack of regular flossing. Since it’s impossible to see between your teeth during an exam, we rely on bitewing X-rays to show us what’s going on in those areas.

We typically take a set of bitewings x-rays, which consists of four films for adults and two films for children, once per year during one of your bi-annual dental cleanings.

This particular set of radiographs will also show about half of the tooth structure, but nothing more.

Periapical Films (PAs)

A periapical x-ray shows the entire tooth: the whole body, the pulp and nerve canals, as well as the roots and surrounding jaw bone immediately around the tip of the root.

These images can be used to diagnose a number of conditions.  For instance, we can see if you have an abscess, because the root of the tooth will typically have a dark shadow at the tip of it. We can assess the severity of the infection, as well as evaluate the neighboring bone and amount of decay present in the tooth to determine what the best course of treatment is.

For example, if the X-ray reveals that there’s still enough healthy tooth structure remaining and that the nerve anatomy isn’t abnormal, then we’ll likely recommend a root canal treatment done to repair your damaged tooth.

However, if your dental X-ray shows an extensive amount of decay, then we won’t be able to save the tooth and an extraction will be necessary.

PAs may also be taken once every 3-5 years as part of a full mouth series. These films serve as baseline images to compare future X-rays against, allowing us to track changes in bone anatomy, gum disease, existing restorations, and other conditions.



A panorex is a 2-dimensional X-ray that shows all of your teeth and jaw in a single image.

Panorex images are typically take for two reasons. First, to check to see if your young child has all of their permanent teeth and that they’re developing correctly or erupting in the appropriate manner.  Secondly, we like to take this image on young adults to check the development of their wisdom teeth. With a panorex, we can determine if the third molars will need to be removed. Panoramic films may also be taken instead of a full mouth series (a combination of PAs and bitewings) on new patients to establish baseline records.

Dental Cat-Scan Image

A dental cat-scan, also known as a cone-beam or CBCT image, shows us everything that a panorex does but in a 3-dimensional manner. This is extremely helpful when determining if you have enough room to place a dental implant, or to locate all of the nerve canals when planning root canal treatment. As a result, root canals become more successful, and extractions are less invasive. In addition, these images will reveal any tumors, cysts, sinus infections, or bone fractures.

Putting Your Oral Health First

Dr. Vinh Huynh, DMD of Eastport Dental spared no expense by investing in the latest in digital x-ray technology to accurately diagnose and treat dental conditions for our patients.  When you’re a patient of our Mesa, Arizona dental practice you’ll see our team using state-of-the-art equipment which allows us to ensure that you’re receiving the best possible care.  If you’ve been looking for a new dentist then now is the time to come and see us. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment to get up-to-date dental x-rays and an accurate diagnosis. We look forward to meeting you and your family.

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