Dentists use two main methods of examination to assess dental and oral health - clinical examination and radiographic examination.
Clinical examination or evaluation entails visually examining all aspects of your mouth: teeth, gums, tongue and palate (roof of your mouth). During this evaluation, a dentist may ask you to close or clench your teeth together to see how your teeth connect with each other. A dentist may also ask you to bite down on something, gently tap your tooth or teeth with an instrument (percussion), or put gentle pressure on an area(palpation). All these are tests to see what kind of reaction is elicited. Depending on the type of reaction, the dentist can devise a plausible explanation for the reaction and/or other symptoms the patient may be experiencing.
This hypothesis is then verified with the taking of X-rays or radiographs. Depending on the type of dentist you visit - each one has his or her own specialty - you may have several different X-rays taken. Each type of X-ray is meant to help a dentist or dental specialist visualize the various structures underneath the gum line and inside tooth structures - the kinds of things you can't see on visual examination alone.
Below is a list of commonly used X-rays and their role in helping the dentist and/or dental specialist assess you for treatment.
1) Panorex or Panoramic X-ray - As the name implies, this is a wide-view picture of your mouth. The X-ray machine will start on one side and cycle around your face to the other side, taking a continual wide-screen picture from one temporomandibular joint to the other. This X-ray is very helpful in determining the position of wisdom teeth, the health and quality of bone and position of nerves in the lower jaw. A Panorex will also show all teeth present, including those that are unerupted or impacted. A Panorex of a child will look quite chaotic because there are the adult teeth "hiding" above the present baby teeth.This X-ray will also show the position and placement of tooth roots.
2) Periapical X-ray (P.A.) - This type of X-ray provides dentists with a close-up view of any particular tooth or teeth.