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Interpreting Dental X-Rays & Investigations

Interpreting dental X-rays to investigate specific dental issues takes specialized skills and education. X-rays may be taken, developed and interpreted by the dentist or dental hygienist to help identify a wide range of oral problems, from cavities to tumors.

Interpreting Dental X-Rays to Investigate Cavities

When investigating cavities, the dentist or dental hygienist relies on the X-ray to highlight any change in the density of tooth enamel or dentin proportions. On an X-ray, the area of a tooth that is decayed will appear darker.

Stages of Cavity Formation

An X-ray can detect cavities during several stages of the decay process. The four stages of cavity formation that show up on X-rays are:

  • Stage 1: This is the earliest stage of tooth decay that will show up on a dental X-ray and is represented by a slight darkening in the enamel portion of the tooth in an X-ray image.
  • Stage 2: This stage of tooth decay shows that the decay has traveled through the enamel layer and will usually require a filling.
  • Stage 3: During this stage, decay is visible in the tooth’s dentin. Because the dentin portion of the tooth is less mineralized than the enamel, decay spreads more rapidly during this stage than in the previous stages.
  • Stage 4: This stage of decay shows the decay moving into the tooth’s nerve tissue. At this state, the tooth will require root canal treatment.

Interpreting X-rays to Investigate Other Dental Problems

Cavities are not the only dental problem that can be investigated through X-rays. As mentioned earlier, X-rays are used by dentists and dental hygienists to better understand a wide range of dental issues, including the following:

  • Dental abscess — an infection that causes pus to accumulate inside the teeth or gums
  • Impacted tooth — a tooth that fails to come in all the way
  • Dental cyst — a sac of tissue that has soft material or fluid inside it

X-rays enable dentists to accurately interpret and investigate possible dental issues so they can help patients seek necessary treatment as quickly as possible.

Kool Smiles, a nationwide network of dental clinics focused on the dental treatment of children, is committed to providing the public with information on a wide range of dental topics. For more information about X-rays, cavities and other dental-related health concerns, contact Kool Smiles or read through this list of frequently asked dental questions.