Radiographs are an important part of dental diagnosis and treatment planning. You may be prescribed radiographs that will be used along with your clinical examination. Periapical radiography is a commonly used intraoral imaging technique in radiology and may be a component of your radiologic examination. Periapical radiographs provide important information about the teeth and surrounding bone. The film shows the entire crown and root of the teeth which provides vital information to aid in the diagnosis of the most common dental diseases; specifically tooth decay, tooth abscesses and periodontal bone loss or gum disease. Additional important findings may be detected, including the condition of restorations, the presence of calculus or tartar, impacted teeth or broken tooth fragments and variations in tooth and bone anatomy.
Periapical radiographs can be taken to examine only selected areas, or they may be prescribed as a Full Mouth Series of radiographs. A Full Mouth Series of radiographs provides images of all the teeth and is generally composed of 20 films, including 4 Bitewing radiographs and 16 Periapical radiographs.
You will be seated in an upright position in the dental chair. You will be covered with a lead apron and thyroid collar. Accepted standards for infection control will be followed and your operator will be wearing gloves and some surfaces may be covered with a protective barrier.
A film will be placed into your mouth using a plastic film holding device which has a metal rod with an attached ring that projects out of the mouth. The operator will carefully place the film and holder into your mouth in the required position to obtain a good-quality image. You will be asked to bite firmly onto the film holding device to keep the film positioned properly and ensure that it remains stable. Some patients find biting down uncomfortable in some parts of the mouth, but it is critical to have the teeth fully closed in order to get adequate images. Your operator will work quickly and employ techniques to minimize your discomfort as much as possible. Once the film is positioned and stable, the operator will align the cone of the x-ray unit, directing it toward the film and using the ring of the film holder to help guide its position.
You will be asked to hold still while maintaining the correct position. The operator will leave the room where he or she will press a button, causing the film to be exposed to radiation and producing an audible beep.
When complete, the operator will re-enter the operatory and remove the film from your mouth, repeating this procedure for different areas of the mouth as required.
When the required radiographs have been completed, the operator will remove the thyroid collar and lead apron and ensure that you are comfortable, while waiting for the films to be processed.
Once the films have been processed, they will be reviewed. This initial assessment does not examine the films for disease; rather, the films are assessed to determine whether all areas can be visualized adequately. Anatomical variations may make film placement more challenging resulting in areas that cannot be seen clearly on the film. In these situations, a re-take may be necessary.
The patient exposure dose of radiation is kept as low as possible in order to maximize diagnostic value while minimizing risk. Radiation doses from dental radiography are considered comparable to the levels of radiation that we are exposed to every day from natural sources, such as the earth and space. Periapical radiographs provide the dental professional with important information that is vital in the diagnosis and treatment planning for our patients.