Merion Village Dental Blog

What Do Dentists Look for in X-Rays? (It’s Not What You’d Expect)

March 22, 2021

Merion Village

Categories: Dental Health, Dentistry FAQs, General Dentistry

What Dentists Look For In Xrays

X-Rays Are Important & Help Us Uncover Dental Issues That Are More Thank Skin-Deep

While getting x-rays at the dentist might not be on your list of favorite things to do, it should be on your list of most important things to do. X-rays can help dentists spot problems in your mouth far before they are large or painful enough to be noticed. But, what exactly are dentists looking for when they view your x-ray images? It might not exactly be what you expected.

Dr. Haney: The #1 Thing We’re Looking for Is Decay (Cavities) Between Teeth

“These areas aren’t visible to us during a clinical exam, so the radiograph lets us view these areas.” He also explained that “there are lots of other things that we look for too; if there is calculus (plaque underneath your gums) visible on the film, that is a sign of gum disease.” 

Dentists use different types of x-ray images to capture photos of your teeth. There are bitewing, periapical, occlusal, panoramic and digital x-rays, all of which are used to capture different views and angles of your mouth. This allows them to catch cavities and other problems that might not be as easily noticed.

Dental Xray Example

Here are 5 things your dentist is looking for in your x-rays:


Did you know that decay (cavities) is the #1 cause of jaw pain? If tooth decay goes undetected, it can result in cavities, pain, infection and even tooth loss! X-rays help us detect decay early so we can treat the issue as soon as possible.

Bone Loss

Since your bones support your teeth, it is important that they are not being damaged by gum disease. When detected early, your dental team can put together a plan before there is too much damage.

Below the gum line problems like impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts, tumors & bone changes

Occasionally we need to take large panoramic radiographs that show the entire jaw. These are helpful in children and teenagers for showing any potential tooth eruption problems and wisdom tooth development. This can also be helpful in adults periodically to check for dental cysts or TMJ concerns.

Finding Wisdom Teeth

Finding extra teeth, jaw fractures, cleft palate & even foreign objects

We look for fractures or breaks in the roots from trauma or infections from the tooth that manifest as dark areas around the roots.

Plaque that forms in the carotid artery (yes, you read that right)

While this dental x-ray finding might be rare, we’ll let Dr. Haney tell the story…

“I’ve even picked up plaque that formed in a patient’s carotid artery in a panoramic image and referred them back to their cardiologist with the image. So while cavities are the main concern, there are lots of other conditions we look for too.”

While the plaque that Dr. Haney found in his patient’s carotid artery is different from dental plaque (it is calcification or hardening of the arteries that can lead to stroke or death), it was a great find nonetheless! If you’re thinking you don’t need x-rays, it’s always a good idea to get them done. 

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