Understanding Different Types Of Dental X-Rays And Their Applications

December 02, 2023

Understanding Different Types Of Dental X-Rays And Their Applications
The dental x-ray shown on this picture is called by several names - OPG, full mouth x-ray or Panoral

In dental care, X-rays are indispensable tools of diagnostic accuracy and insight. Far more than mere technological equipment, they are key to uncovering hidden dental structures and diagnosing various dental conditions, often invisible to the naked eye.

By exploring the diverse types of dental X-rays, this article endeavors to bridge the gap between complex dental technology and everyday understanding, clarifying how these pivotal tools aid in maintaining optimal oral health.

1. Bitewing X-rays

As employed by my Commercial Drive dentist, bitewing X-rays are specifically designed to detect cavities between teeth, a common area where decay can occur unnoticed. 

During this procedure, the patient bites down on a special paper holder, which positions the film to capture an image of the crowns of both the upper and lower teeth. This alignment is crucial for a clear comparative view. Ultimately, it provides a comprehensive assessment of both dental health and the integrity of previous dental treatments.

Beyond cavity detection, bitewing X-rays are invaluable in assessing the extent of dental restorations like fillings and crowns and evaluating the existing dental work needed for wear or decay underneath. Additionally, these X-rays can identify any bone loss associated with gum disease.

2. Periapical X-rays

Periapical X-rays offer a full view of the tooth from its top (crown) to the end of the root. These X-rays are taken for individual teeth or small groups of teeth. The film or sensor is placed in the mouth, and the X-ray captures the entire length of the teeth, displaying their structure, roots, and the surrounding bone.

This type of X-ray is particularly useful for diagnosing root structure problems, infections at the root, cysts, abscesses, or tumors. They help identify issues not only in the visible part of the teeth but also in the underlying structures, making them essential for comprehensive diagnosis and treatment planning, especially for root canal treatments or evaluation of trauma injuries.

3. Occlusal X-rays

Larger in size, occlusal X-rays are designed to capture the floor or roof of the mouth, thus providing a broader view of the teeth's development. The patient bites down on a larger film, allowing the X-ray to capture an image of an entire arch of teeth in either the upper or lower jaw.
These X-rays are particularly useful in pediatric dentistry for monitoring tooth development, including the emergence of primary and secondary teeth. Additionally, they help identify abnormalities such as extra teeth, impacted teeth, or developmental anomalies like cleft palate. They also play a role in diagnosing fractures and locating foreign objects in the mouth.

4. Panoramic X-rays

Panoramic X-rays are designed to capture a comprehensive view of the entire mouth area. The machine rotates around the patient's head, taking an image that includes all the teeth, both upper and lower jaws, and, in some cases, the sinuses and temporomandibular joint. This non-invasive procedure provides a broad perspective of the dental and facial bones.

These X-rays are particularly beneficial for treatment planning in orthodontics, assessment of wisdom teeth, diagnosis of jaw problems, and planning for implant placement. They can also detect cysts, tumors, jaw disorders, and impacted teeth.

Panoramic X-rays provide a better view of bone abnormalities and fractures, making them an essential tool in comprehensive oral health evaluation.

5. Cephalometric Projections

Cephalometric projections are essential for understanding the alignment of teeth and jaw and their relationship with the facial profile.

The X-ray takes a side-view image of the head, showing the teeth, jawline, and profile. This type of X-ray is typically taken with a dedicated cephalometric X-ray machine, where the patient stands, and the film captures a lateral or side view of the head.

These projections are primarily used in orthodontics for treatment planning. They help assess the patient's dentofacial proportions, plan orthodontic interventions, and track changes during and after treatment.

6. Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)

Cone beam computed tomography, or CBCT, is a revolutionary dental imaging technology offering three-dimensional images. The CBCT scanner rotates around the patient, capturing data with a cone-shaped X-ray beam.

This process results in detailed 3D images of the dental structures, soft tissues, nerve paths, and bones, making it invaluable in complex cases, including orthodontics, endodontics, and oral surgery.

CBCT is used in more complex diagnostic and planning cases. It is essential for surgical planning, especially for dental implants, where precision is crucial. It helps diagnose and plan treatment for temporomandibular joint disorders, evaluate the sinuses and nasal cavities, and assess the jaw and facial bones.


Dental X-rays are indispensable allies in dentistry, offering a window into the unseen aspects of oral health. From detecting cavities in their nascent stages to aiding in complex orthodontic procedures, these imaging techniques ensure that dental care is both thorough and precise. 
Understanding these various X-ray types empowers dental professionals in their practice and educates patients, fostering a collaborative approach to oral health. Ultimately, the knowledge and application of these diverse X-ray techniques contribute significantly to maintaining and enhancing dental well-being.


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