X-rays, also known as orthodontic radiographs, are an important tool for assessing a patient’s jaw, mouth, and bone health. There are several different types of X-rays used in dentistry and orthodontics. It may be necessary for orthodontists to use a few different types of X-rays in order to get a full picture of the patient’s mouth and facial structure before recommending treatment.

X-Rays for Orthodontists

How Do X-Rays Work?

When an X-Ray is being taken, a beam of radiation passes through the body and hits either a sensor or a piece of film. Dense tissue such as bone and teeth will not allow the radiation to pass through, so it shows as a white or light image on the film. Softer tissues and areas of lower density allow the radiation to pass through, so it shows as a darker image on the film. Analyzing the darker and lighter spots on an X-Ray gives orthodontists an idea of the tooth and bone health of a patient.

Types of X-Rays

There are two main types of X-rays used in general dentistry and orthodontics. Intraoral X-rays are taken of the inside of the mouth. Extraoral X-rays are taken outside of the mouth. There are several different types of X-rays that fall into these two categories that are used for different purposes in orthodontics and dentistry.

Intraoral X-Rays

Common types of intraoral X-rays which are used by orthodontists and dentists include:

  • Bite-wing X-rays show the upper and lower teeth from crown to bone in areas of the mouth
  • Occlusal X-rays show placement and development of full teeth and arch
  • Periapical X-rays show full teeth from crown to the end of the root inside of the jaw

Extraoral X-Rays

Common types of extraoral X-rays that orthodontists or dentists may order include:

  • Panoramic X-rays show the entire mouth in one X-ray
  • Cephalometric projections show one side of the head
  • Tomograms show one layer of the mouth while blocking other areas to provide a clear view
  • CT Scans show a three dimensional image of the head. These must be performed at a hospital
  • Sialography show the salivary glands through the use of a contrast medium

Use of X-Rays in Orthodontics

The primary use of X-rays in orthodontic applications is to help orthodontists diagnose problems like impactions, misalignments of the teeth, and asymmetries of the jaws. Comparing and analyzing different types of X-rays such as panoramic X-rays and periapical X-rays helps orthodontists get a well-rounded picture of the tooth and jaw structure so that proper treatment can be administered. X-rays can also be used throughout orthodontic treatment to evaluate progress and make corrections as needed. Although not a primary application, X-rays taken by orthodontists may also reveal health conditions such as abscesses and tumors in the head that can save patient’s lives.