How to Read a Dental X-Ray

Written by edith robb
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How to Read a Dental X-Ray
A source of backlighting helps in reading a dental X-ray. (dentist x-ray 01 image by Dragan Bombek from

Reading a dental X-ray, a black and white picture of the inside of a tooth and bone, requires professional dentistry training, a source of backlighting and a magnifying device. Look at the X-ray to determine areas of darkness and light. The black areas are the soft objects such as decay and the nerves and blood vessels. The white parts are the solid parts such as the tooth enamel, fillings, crowns and dentine, the sensitive part of the tooth surrounding the nerve and blood vessels.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • X-ray image
  • Back-lighting source
  • Magnifying glass

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  1. 1

    Search for tooth decay in the darkened areas of the X-ray image in and around the tooth, the breeding ground for decay. Because part of a decayed tooth has been dissolved, X-rays penetrate that area easily, and decay will show up as a dark line or area on the film. Look also for signs of abscess, a confined area of pus caused by infection. An abscess will show up as a darkened area as well.

  2. 2

    Examine the light areas of the image to study the conditions of the tooth enamel, fillings and crowns, and dentine. In particular look for problems with the tooth enamel, the hard white covering of the crown of the tooth, the filling material used to eliminate cavities, and any dental or replacement crowns. The filling will show up as very white.

  3. 3

    Examine the bone. Using the magnifying glass, search for the bone, a fine white line around the teeth. It has a mottled grey and white appearance.

  4. 4

    File X-rays for later comparisons. Set up a filing system to save a dental X-ray since a key aspect of taking and reading dental images is to compare these X-rays over time for hints of changes in the density of the tooth's enamel and dentine.

Tips and warnings

  • Reading and correctly interpreting a dental X-ray requires significant professional training and practice. It is best to consult with a licensed dentist to read a dental X-ray.

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