What Can Be Seen on Dental X-rays

At Jay Lopez, D.D.S., in Tucson, Arizona, we assure our patients that we do digital dental radiography, only as needed, with minimal radiation (very low exposure).

Dental x-rays enable us to see inside a tooth and the surrounding periodontal bone. Dental X-rays do not show soft tissue such as the gums, lips or nerves. By looking at the x-ray of a tooth, we can differentiate between normal and diseased tissue. For example, in the following image, we can see evidence of decay.

The green arrows are pointing to the bone. The blue arrows are pointing to the healthy enamel. The red arrows are pointing to the pulp, where the nerve and blood vessels are located for a tooth. The dentin layer is between the enamel and the pulp. The purple arrows are pointing to areas of decay, which show up as a dark spot on x-rays. Bacteria have attacked the tooth and have dissolved the enamel and entered the dentin. The decay must be removed before it dissolves the dentin and enters the pulp. If the decay enters the pulp, the tooth will require either a root canal and crown, or an extraction.

On the following x-ray image, the yellow arrows point to dark areas created by the decay. These areas of decay will need to be restored with a tooth-colored filling that matches the surrounding tooth structure. Dr. Jay Lopez uses tooth-colored composite (dental resin) or porcelain inlays or onlays to fill cavities. Composite fillings can be done in one office visit. (Learn more about tooth decay and dental fillings.)

In addition to observing enamel decay, Dr. Lopez views digital x-ray images to look for the presence of abscesses, cysts, tumors, fractures in teeth and the jaw bone, and unerupted teeth. He also looks for bone resorption due to periodontal disease or tooth loss, the volume of available bone for implant treatment, and the position of tooth roots in the jaw bone.

Your x-ray images are viewable on the computer screen adjacent to the dental chair. As a patient, you are naturally interested in your x-rays and what they show us. We will point out what we see and discuss your oral health circumstances with you. Dental x-rays have saved lives when it comes to bone cancer. X-rays have prevented tooth loss and saved many thousands of dollars by facilitating early diagnosis and treatment of dental problems. And, dental x-rays are essential for planning predictable treatment.