Early Detection with Dental Imaging: How X-rays Help Uncover Hidden Issues

Since their discovery in 1895, dental imaging have helped medical professionals diagnose broken bones and other conditions. Today, dentists and other healthcare professionals use advanced X-ray technology to uncover hidden issues. Modern dental X-rays can help dentists discover dental problems earlier and more accurately.

Early detection of unseen problems is essential for a good outcome. As with most health problems, early dental treatment provides better outcomes than later diagnoses. X-rays help your dentist peer beneath your gums and enamel to uncover hidden issues, such as tooth decay, bone loss, and structural abnormalities.

Learning About Dental X-rays

Dentists started using X-rays just a year after their discovery, and commercial dental X-ray machines were commercially available in the 1920s. However, the use of dental X-rays was only embraced in the 1950s. Today, almost all dentists use dental X-rays to help uncover hidden issues. The best dentists use advanced imaging technology, such as digital images, to detect problems not visible to the naked eye.

How Dental X-rays Work in Dentistry

X-ray machines emit a small, controlled burst of radiation to create images. The radiation passes through body structures and strikes a film or digital sensor plate, turning the film or sensor black.

Radiation does not pass through all structures at the same rate, though. Dense tissue absorbs much of the X-ray beam, so less radiation reaches the plate or sensor. Because of this, bones, teeth, and other dense tissue appear white or light gray with dental imaging.

Less dense tissue absorbs very little of the X-ray beam, so more radiation reaches the film or sensor. Less-dense tissue looks black or dark gray on X-ray images.

The enamel covering your teeth is highly mineralized, which means it contains large amounts of minerals that make it dense and robust. In a process known as demineralization, tooth enamel can lose the minerals that make it dense. Demineralization can lead to tooth decay and cavities, also known as dental caries.

Because it is dense enough to absorb radiation, healthy tooth enamel looks white on dental X-rays. Conversely, cavities appear darker on dental X-rays because demineralization makes the enamel less dense. As they develop, cavities can travel inwards through the tooth to the softer layer of dentin, which sits just below the enamel. These cavities can also be seen on X-rays.

Tooth decay and cavities are progressive, so they worsen over time. In their latest stages, cavities are easy to see and usually cause pain, making them relatively easy to diagnose and more challenging to treat. Dental x-rays, or dental radiology, help your dentist spot minor problems early before they become big.

What can dentists see with dental imaging?

Dental X-rays can do more than just create images of cavities, though. Dental radiography can help dentists detect a wide variety of dental issues, such as:

  • Small areas of decay between teeth, which can be challenging to see with the naked eye
  • Decay beneath existing fillings, which are impossible to see without x-rays or by removing the filling
  • The loss of bone density in your jaw
  • Pockets of infection
  • The position of impacted teeth, which are teeth that cannot break through the gum properly
  • Abscessed teeth, which are areas of infection between your gums and your tooth or an infection at the root of a tooth
  • Cysts and some types of tumors

Dentists can also use dental X-rays to help uncover hidden issues that might interfere with upcoming dental work, such as dental implants, braces, or dentures. Your dentist can also use X-rays to evaluate healing after bone grafts, root canal therapy, or other procedures.

For more information on how X-rays can help uncover hidden issues and provide early detection for better outcomes, consult with Smiles by Shields. Our dentist in Jacksonville, FL, uses the latest dental technology, such as digital imaging, to provide exceptional care. We serve everyone looking for holistic dental care and cosmetic dentistry that Jacksonville, FL, residents rely on.


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Smiles by Shields
3940 San Jose Park Dr.
Jacksonville, FL 32217