Dental X-rays (radiographs) are images of your teeth that your dentist uses to evaluate your oral health. These X-rays are used with low levels of radiation to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. This can help your dentist to identify problems, like cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth.
Dental X-rays may seem complex, but they're actually very common tools that are just as important as your teeth cleanings.
Why dental X-rays are performed
Dental X-rays are typically performed yearly. They can happen more often if your dentist is tracking the progress of a dental problem or treatment.
Factors affecting how often you get dental X-rays may include:
your current oral health
any symptoms of oral disease
a history of gum disease (gingivitis) or tooth decay
If you're a new patient, you'll probably undergo dental X-rays so that your new dentist can get a clear picture of your dental health. This is especially important if you don't have any X-rays from your previous dentist.
Children may need to have dental X-rays more often than adults because their dentists might need to monitor the growth of their adult teeth. This is important because it can help the dentist determine if baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications, such as adult teeth growing in behind baby teeth.
Risks of dental X-rays
While dental X-rays do involve radiation, the exposed levels are so low that they're considered safe for children and adults. If your dentist uses digital X-rays instead of developing them on film, your risks from radiation exposure are even lower.
Your dentist will also place a lead bib over your chest, abdomen, and pelvic region to prevent any unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs. A thyroid collar may be used in the case of thyroid conditions. Children and women of childbearing age may also wear them along with the lead bib.
Pregnancy is an exception to the rule. Women who are pregnant or believe they may be pregnant should avoid all types of X-rays. Tell your dentist if you believe you are pregnant, because radiation is not considered safe for developing fetuses.
Preparing for dental X-rays
Dental X-rays require no special preparation. The only thing you'll want to do is brush your teeth before your appointment. That creates a more hygienic environment for those working inside your mouth. X-rays are usually done before cleanings.
At the dentist's office, you'll sit in a chair with a lead vest across your chest and lap. The X-ray machine is positioned alongside your head to record images of your mouth. Some dental practices have a separate room for X-rays, while others perform them in the same room as cleanings and other procedures.
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Types of X-rays
There are several types of dental X-rays, which record slightly different views of your mouth. The most common are intraoral X-rays, such as:
Bitewing. This technique involves biting down on a special piece of paper so that your dentist can see how well the crowns of your teeth match up. This is commonly used to check for cavities between teeth (interdental).
Occlusal. This X-ray is done when your jaw is closed to see how your upper and bottom teeth line up. It can also detect anatomical abnormalities with the floor of the mouth or the palate.
Occlusal. This technique captures all of your teeth in one shot.
Panoramic. For this type of X-ray, the machine rotates around the head. Your dentist may use this technique to check your wisdom teeth, plan for implanted dental devices, or investigate jaw problems.
Periapical. This technique focuses on two complete teeth from root to crown.
ExtraoralX-rays may be used when your dentist suspects there might be problems in areas outside of the gums and teeth, such as the jaw.
A dental hygienist will guide you through each step of the X-ray process. They might step outside of the room briefly while the images are being taken. You'll be instructed to hold still while the pictures are recorded. Spacers (film holders), if they're used, will be moved and adjusted in your mouth to obtain the proper images.
After dental X-rays
When the images are ready instantly in the case of digital X-rays your dentist will review them and check for abnormalities. If a dental hygienist is cleaning your teeth, the dentist may go over the results of the X-rays with you after your cleaning is done. The exception is if the hygienist discovers any significant problems during the X-rays.
If your dentist finds problems, such as cavities or tooth decay, they'll discuss your treatment options. If your dentist finds no problems, keep up the good work!
Like brushing and flossing, getting regular dental X-rays is an integral part of your overall oral health.
Having a good checkup can be a relief, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't keep getting X-rays.
Depending on your age, health, and insurance coverage, X-rays may be performed every one to two years. Be sure to commit to your appointments and see your dentist sooner if you experience any pain or other changes in your mouth.
What Is a Spinal X-Ray?
If your doctor wants to find out what's causing your back or neck pain, he may ask you to get a spinal X-ray. It uses radiation to make detailed pictures of the bones of your spine.
A technician uses a machine that sends X-ray beams through your body. It records a black-and-white image on a special film or computer. Bones, and other parts of your body that are thick or dense, show up white in the picture. Softer tissue, like fat or muscle, appear in shades of gray.
Your doctor can take separate X-rays that focus on the different parts of the spine, which is made up of 33 small bones called vertebrae.
Your spine is split into sections:
Cervical spine (neck)
Thoracic spine (chest or trunk area)
Lumbar spine (lower back)
Sacral area (base of the spine)
Why Would You Get It?
A spinal X-ray can help your doctor figure out if you have:
Spinal disk problems
Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones)
Abnormal curves of the spine
Spinal problems you were born with
X-rays are the most common tool used to "see" inside your body and take pictures of bones. While X-rays don't show as much detail as other imaging tests, they are often the tests doctors use at first to help them decide on your next steps.
Computed tomography (a CT scan) combines X-rays with computer technology to create a picture that shows a cross-section, or slice, of the bone.
For the most detailed pictures of the spine and all its parts, doctors often suggest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It uses powerful magnets, radio waves, and a computer not radiation.
Are Spinal X-Rays Safe?
For most people, X-rays are safe. Some worry that the radiation can cause changes in cells that may lead to cancer. But the amount used in spinal X-rays is small, so the chance is low.
Unborn babies, however, are more sensitive to radiation. Tell your doctor if you're pregnant or think you might be. He may suggest another type of imaging test.
How Do I Prepare for a Spinal X-Ray?
Before your spinal X-ray, besides telling your doctor that you are or might be pregnant, let him know if you have an insulin pump or had any other types of X-rays recently.
You may need to remove your clothes and wear a gown during the test. Also, anything that's made of metal may show up on an X-ray, so remove things like these beforehand:
What Happens During the Test?
You'll lie down on a special exam table. An X-ray machine will be hanging above you. A drawer under the table holds the X-ray film or digital recording plate.
A specially trained technician will position you on the table so that the section of your spine getting X-rayed is between the machine and the drawer with the film. He may cover the other parts of your body with a special apron made of lead that blocks radiation.
The technician will step behind a window barrier and turn on the X-ray machine. You'll need to stay still and hold your breath while the beams pass through your body. This only takes a few seconds. If you move, it may blur the image.
You may hear some clicking or buzzing noises while you get your X-ray, but you won't feel anything. An X-ray is painless.
In some cases, you may need to stand next to the X-ray machine. You doctor may also ask that you get images from the front and the side of your spine, or while you stretch or bend.
An X-ray takes about 5 minutes to complete. But you may in the room for longer, depending on how many images and views your doctor needs.
When your X-ray session is done, the technician will process the images. He may ask you to wait a few minutes to make sure the pictures are clear.
What is a skull X-ray?
A skull X-ray is an imaging test doctors use to examine the bones of the skull, including the facial bones, the nose, and the sinuses. See a Body Map of the skull.
It's an easy, quick, and effective method that has been used for decades to help doctors view the area that houses your most vital organ your brain.
Why a skull X-ray is done
Prior to your X-ray, your doctor will tell you the exact reason for your X-ray. A skull X-ray is typically done after a traumatic head injury. The X-ray allows your doctor to inspect any damage from the injury.
Other reasons you may undergo a skull X-ray include:
decalcification of the bone
deformities in the skull
fractures of the skull or facial bones
infection of the bones of the skulls
occupational hearing loss (caused by your job)
How to prepare for a skull X-ray
X-rays require little preparation on your part.
Before the X-ray, you may need to undress from the waist up and change into a hospital gown. You may be able to keep your clothing on if your clothing doesn't have metal snaps or zippers.
You'll have to remove any jewelry, eyeglasses, and other metals from around your head. This includes necklaces and earrings. Metal can interfere with the clarity of the X-ray image.
Inform your doctor if you have any kind of surgically implanted device, such as a metal plate in your head, an artificial heart valve, or a pacemaker. Even though these things might interfere somewhat with the image, your doctor may still choose to perform an X-ray.
Other scans, such as an MRI, can be risky for people with metal in their bodies.
How a skull X-ray is performed
An X-ray is performed in a special room with a movable X-ray camera attached to a large metal arm. It's designed to be able to take multiple X-rays of various body parts.
For a skull X-ray, you'll sit in a chair or lie down on a specialized table. A drawer under the table contains the X-ray film or a special sensor that helps record the images on a computer. A lead apron will be placed over your body, which will protect your body (especially the genital region and breasts) from radiation.
The X-ray technician may have you lie on your back to start, but you'll have to change positions so the camera can capture front and side views. While the images are being taken, you'll be asked to hold your breath and stay very still. You won't feel the X-ray pass through you.
The procedure should take about 20 to 30 minutes. Once the test is complete, you can go about your day as you normally would.
The risks of a skull X-ray
While X-rays use radiation, none of it remains in your body when the test is done. Doctors argue that the benefits of the test outweigh any risk from exposure to the minimal amount of radiation produced.
However, while the level of exposure is considered safe for adults, repeated exposure may not be safe for developing fetuses. If you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant, talk to your doctor.
Results and following up after a skull X-ray
A radiologist and your doctor will go over the images, which are usually developed on large sheets of film.
As the radiation passes through your body onto the film, denser materials, such as bone and muscle, appear white. Tumors and other growths may also appear white. When presented against a lit background, your doctor and radiologist will be able to determine any problems.
What is a sinus X-ray?
A sinus X-ray is an imaging test that uses X-rays to look at your sinuses. The sinuses are air-filled pockets (cavities) near your nasal passage.
X-rays use a small amount of radiation to create images of your bones and internal organs. X-rays are most often used to find bone or joint problems, or to check the heart and lungs. A sinus X-ray is one type of X-ray.
A sinus X-ray is simple and quick, and does not involve any instruments that are put into your body (noninvasive). It can give your healthcare provider useful information. But a sinus X-ray can only tell your provider that a problem exists. It does not show a specific cause of the problem.
A CT scan or MRI may give better images of your sinuses. You may have one of these scans instead of a sinus X-ray in certain cases.
Why might I need a sinus X-ray?
You may need a sinus X-ray if your healthcare provider thinks that you may have:
Injury to your sinuses
Tumor or other mass
You may also need a sinus X-ray after sinus surgery.
Your provider may have other reasons to recommend a chest X-ray.
What are the risks of a sinus X-ray?
You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the test. Also ask about the risks as they apply to you.
Consider writing down all X-rays you get, including past scans and X-rays for other health reasons. Show this list to your provider. The risks of radiation exposure may be tied to the number of X-rays you have and the X-ray treatments you have over time.
Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects. If you need to have a sinus X-ray, the technologist will take special care to keep the radiation exposure to the fetus at a minimum.
You may have other risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.
How do I get ready for a sinus X-ray?
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask him or her any questions you have about the procedure.
You do not need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).
Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
Tell your healthcare provider an artificial (prosthetic) eye. An artificial eye can create a confusing shadow on a sinus X-ray.
Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.
What happens during a sinus X-ray?
You may have a sinus X-ray as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.
Generally, a sinus X-ray follows this process:
You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may get in the way of the test.
You will lie on an X-ray table. Your head will be carefully placed between the X-ray machine and the X-ray film. A foam vise will hold your head still. The vise does not hurt.
The technologist may cover the rest of your body with a lead apron (shield) so you are not exposed to the X-rays.
The technologist will ask you to hold still for a few moments while the X-ray is made.
If the X-ray is needed to look at a possible injury, the technologist will take special care to prevent further injury. For example, you may wear a neck brace if your healthcare provider thinks you have a cervical spine fracture.
Some sinus X-ray studies may require you to be in several different positions. It is very important to remain still during the X-ray. Any movement may affect the quality of the image. You may need to have another X-ray done in that case.
The technologist will step behind a special window while the image is taken.
The sinus X-ray is not painful. But you may have some discomfort or pain from moving into different positions if you have had recent surgery or an injury. The technologist will use all possible comfort measures and do the scan as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.
What happens after a sinus X-ray?
You do not need any special care after a sinus X-ray. Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person's qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how will you get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
Orbital x rays are studies of the area and structures containing the eye. The orbit is the circle of thin bones that houses and protects the eye, even extending behind the eye and nearly wrapping around it. The orbit includes the eyebrow, the bridge of the nose and the cheekbone. X rays are a form of radiation (like light) that can penetrate body tissues.
Orbital x ray, or orbital radiography, is often used to detect problems resulting from injury or trauma to the eye. The exam may also detect changes to the structure of the eye, which may indicate various diseases. An ophthalmologist may also order an orbital x ray if there is concern that foreign bodies may be present in the eye that cannot be detected with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope.
Pregnant women and women who could possibly be pregnant should only receive orbital x rays when absolutely necessary. If the patient is in severe pain due to injury or trauma, a painkiller may be given to help ease discomfort during positioning of the head throughout the exam. No other precautions are necessary for orbital x rays.
Each orbit is composed of a floor, a roof, a medial (in the center plane) and lateral (sides of the plane) walls. The orbital x ray involves several different views in order for the physician to clearly see various parts of the eye without obstruction. In orbital x rays, images of the unaffected eye may also be taken to compare its shapes and structures to those of the affected eye. Views may include side view (lateral), back to front (posteroanterior), base view, views from both sides, and an image from the center to one outside edge (half-axial projection). Projections of the optical canal will also be included. For all of these views, the patient may be seated upright or asked to lie on a table in the x ray room.
The orbital x ray procedure should take about 15 minutes to complete. Following the procedure, the patient will usually be asked to wait until the films are developed to ensure they are high enough quality and that repeat x rays are not necessary. A physician may perform the x ray exam in his or her office, or refer the patient to an outpatient radiology facility or hospital radiology department. In the case of emergency, the exam may be performed in the emergency room or a nearby radiology area of the hospital.
There are no special dietary preparations needed prior to an orbital x ray. As with any radiography procedure, the patient should remove any jewelry or metal objects, which may interfere with a clear image.
No aftercare is required following this diagnostic test.
Radiation exposure is low for this procedure and all certified radiology facilities follow strict personnel and equipment guidelines for radiation protection. Women of child bearing age and children should be offered protective shielding (lead aprons) to cover the genital and/or abdominal areas.
Normal findings will show the bones of the orbit intact, and will show similarity between the orbit that is being studied and the unaffected orbit.
Positive findings from an orbital x ray may show that there has been injury to the eye. Certains signs may indicate some disease that is affecting the orbital structures. Tiny fractures in the orbital bones can usually be detected on the radiograph. The floor bone, the medial wall and the ethmoid bone, which is a spongy bone that forms the upper part of the nasal cavity, are the most likely to break. In a blowout fracture (one involving the orbital floor), radiographic findings may include disruption to the orbital floor, an opaque look to the sinuses on the same side as the affected orbit (due to hemorrhage) or signs of sinus problems from the orbital root's interference. These indications can be seen in most typical orbital x ray views.
Blowout fracture A fracture or break in the orbit that is caused by sudden and violent impact to the area.
Malignancy A malignancy is a tumor that is cancerous and growing.
Medial wall The middle bone, or wall of the eye's orbit. It is generally thicker than the roof and floor walls.
Ophthalmologist A physician who specializes in the workings, structures and care of the eyes.
Ophthalmoscope An instrument routinely used by ophthalmologists to examine the interior of the eye. It consists of a small light, a mirror, and lenses of differing powers that magnify.
Radiography Examination of any part of the body through the use of x rays. The process produces an image of shadows and contrasts on film.
X ray A form of electromagnetic radiation with shorter wavelengths than normal light. X rays can penetrate most structures.
Since the physician examines both orbits side by side, indications of differences in size and shape of the various structures in the orbit may be apparent. The orbit may be enlarged, indicating irritation from an injury or foreign body. A number of growing tumors within the eye or brain area may also cause orbital enlargement. Destruction of the walls of the orbit may indicate a nearby infection or malignancy. Changes in density of the tiny orbit bones may also be a sign of bone disease or cancer spread to bone.
Children's orbits are more likely to be enlarged by a fast growing lesion, since their orbital bones have not fully developed.