Dental X-rays are an important part of the dental exam, used to diagnose problems with the teeth, gums and jaw. X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to produce these images -- they form wavelengths that penetrate the soft tissue of the body and are absorbed by denser materials, creating pictures of your bones or teeth. And since your dentist doesn't have X-ray vision, they're necessary to distinguish dental problems not visible to the naked eye.
Tooth decay, periodontal disease, impacted teeth, bite problems and even tumors are just a few of the dental conditions easily found with dental X-rays.
Bitewings are a type of dental X-rays used to check the back teeth. As they show the crown of the tooth, bitewing X-rays are extremely helpful in determining tooth decay located in between teeth, various stages of gum disease and problems with tooth alignment. Bitewings are also excellent for detecting a buildup of dental tartar, and are sometimes used to measure bone loss due to advanced periodontal disease.
Bitewings get their name from how they look: The film resembles a "T-shape" that's placed on the interior side of the jaw. The film extends to cover both the upper and lower teeth, and the patient bites a tab in the middle to hold the film in place. After the dental hygienist positions the bitewing in the mouth, the patient closes his or her teeth to secure the film. An X-ray camera is then used to photograph several teeth at once.
There are several types of X-rays used during a dental exam, with bitewings being the most common. However, you may find yourself receiving a full set of periapical X-rays during your first visit to a new dentist, or occlusal X-rays if your dentist needs to look at the jaw as a whole. Some state-of-the-art practices are choosing to use panoramic or digital X-rays as well.
Regardless, bitewings are a standard fixture among dental practices. Once an initial full set of X-rays are taken, bitewings are used during interval checkups to look for changes in the teeth and gums.
Not only is this convenient for the dentist, but it keeps the patient from having to sit through a complete set of X-rays every six months -- saving you time and money in the long run!
Taking bitewings is a quick and painless process, and the film is usually ready for the dentist to view in just a few minutes. Although you can't feel the X-ray waves, holding the film in place can be uncomfortable for some. Anxious patients may feel a slight pinching against the roof of their mouth or a gagging sensation. If that happens, the dental hygienist may be able to reposition the film and have you breathe through your nose to make you more comfortable.
While standard safety precautions should be practiced, the amount of radiation from the bitewings, or any dental X-rays for that matter, is actually quite low. As most patients experience taking bitewing X-rays only occasionally, the level of radiation they encounter isn't significant enough to cause a health concern. Regardless, no matter how many bitewings are being taken, patients should always be covered with a lead apron and anyone else should step out of the room for protection against radiation. If you are pregnant, tell your dentist -- he or she will determine whether X-rays are needed during your appointment.
If you think periodic X-rays are a waste of time, think again! Bitewing X-rays are an essential part of your dental care routine. As many early dental conditions don't have symptoms, you and your dentist may not be aware of them! Without the use of bitewings, your dental condition will continue to grow, setting you up for a large, painful problem in the future! So even if your teeth feel fine, it's important to get bitewings taken as needed.