Do you dread getting x-rays at the dentist’s office? Time-consuming and sometimes uncomfortable, x-rays may seem like more hassle than they’re worth, but dental x-rays are an essential part of your dental care.
But there is also technology available now and coming on the horizon to help improve your dentist’s diagnostic capabilities.
Dental x-rays are an invaluable diagnostic tool for dental practitioners because they allow us to see inside and under the tooth, gums and bone.
Those x-rays reveal things we could never see with just a visual examination.
For example, while we can detect some cavity types simply by looking into a patient’s mouth, we cannot detect all types of tooth decay.
A necrotic tooth (a tooth in which the nerve has died) is sometimes not detectable through an examination. Although some dead teeth actually change colour, others do not. And because the tooth has died, it no longer causes discomfort to the patient.
For this reason, it’s not uncommon for necrotic teeth to go undetected. A dead tooth requires a root canal if the tooth is to be saved.
If left untreated, a dead tooth will become brittle and susceptible to breakage.
In most cases, where a visual examination may not have shown evidence of a necrotic tooth, an x-ray will almost always reveal it.
Dental x-rays don’t just show us what’s going on inside the tooth, they also show us what’s occurring at the bone level.
We routinely screen for oral cancer, both through clinical examination and x-rays.
Oral cancer has one of the highest death rates of all types of cancer, so early detection is important.
While many oral cancers are visible to the naked eye, others occur deep within the tissue and can quickly grow into the bone.
Identifying oral cancer early allows for the greatest chance of successful treatment and recovery.
Beyond oral cancer, many problems can occur within the bones of the mouth.
Systemic problems—those that affect the entire body—many times appear in the mouth first.
In general, the mouth is a good indicator of what’s going on in the body, which is why physicians for generations have asked patients to open their mouths and stick their tongues out as part of every examination.
X-rays are an essential part of a child’s dental care as well. For young children who’ve not yet lost their baby teeth, x-rays can show the dentist the positions of the permanent teeth—whether they’re oriented properly and whether there will be enough room for them to erupt normally.
X-rays can give us a good indication of whether orthodontic treatment will be necessary later in life, and can offer us an opportunity to act early to avoid future problems.
Although x-rays are effective diagnostic tools, some dental practices, particularly those that handle a large number of dental implant cases, are using more advanced imaging techniques to ensure an even higher degree of accuracy.
Dental CT scans can be extremely helpful in determining the correct placement for dental implants.
Until recently, dentists had to send implant patients to the hospital for these scans.
Now, however, some dental practitioners can perform these scans in their own offices.
The ability to do in-office CT scans represents a huge technological leap for dentistry and will significantly improve our abilities to diagnose all kinds of dental problems.
Although not available everywhere yet, in-office dental CT scans are becoming more and more common.
Sharnell Muir is an LVI certified dentist with Kelowna Dentistry By Design, 100-2033 Gordon Dr.