Interpreting decay on dental X-rays, also known as radiographs, requires a trained eye to identify subtle changes in tooth structure. Below is a simple guide on trying to make sense of your child’s dental x-rays.
The tooth has three layers: the enamel (outer hard surface), the dentin (the inner, more sensitive layer) and the nerve. X-rays are taken to spot signs of decay, which typically appear as dark areas on the X-ray where the tooth enamel has been compromised. These dark spots indicate areas where the enamel has demineralized due to the presence of bacteria and acids, forming cavities. The location, size, and depth of these darkened regions help dentists determine the extent of the decay. Additionally, changes in the density and texture of the tooth may suggest advanced decay that has reached the inner layers. Infected teeth may have a dark spot on the x-ray around the root and surrounding areas of the tooth. By comparing current X-rays with previous ones, dentists can track the progression of decay over time. This precise analysis enables dental professionals to develop targeted treatment plans to address the decay and preserve the affected tooth’s health.
In general, decay which is in the outer third of dentin or in the enamel can be restored with white fillings whereas deeper cavities require either a stainless steel or zirconia crown. If the decay progresses to the nerve, your child can experience pain from the cavity and may require either a nerve treatment or an extraction.
X-rays are generally recommended if there is any evidence of suspected dental disease or trauma. Your child’s first set of routine x-rays is typically around age 3-4 when the back teeth start to touch. As the back teeth begin to touch, food and bacteria will get stuck and cause decay in between the teeth.