Do dental X rays show infection?

Dental X-rays are an indispensable and versatile diagnostic tool that allows dentists to visualize the internal structures of teeth, the jawbone, and surrounding anatomy.

Among the most valuable uses of dental x-rays is identifying potential infections that may be developing within or around the teeth and supporting bone – issues that otherwise could not be observed through a visual oral exam alone.

Dental infections can spread quickly and cause severe damage if left untreated. X-rays afford dentists the ability to screen for infection-related pathologies and catch them at early stages before extensive progression. This includes caries, tooth decay, abscesses, cysts, periodontal disease, and other bacterial infiltrations of the teeth, nerves, and bone.

Different types of dental radiographs like bitewing, periapical, panoramic, and cone beam CT scans all uniquely contribute to revealing oral infections from different perspectives.

The detailed insights provided by dental X-rays are key for accurately diagnosing infectious conditions requiring urgent treatment. Identifying issues like abscesses, tooth decay into the pulp chamber, or periodontal pockets allows for timely interventions like root canals, tooth extraction, or deep cleanings to resolve infections before they disseminate more widely.

X-ray imaging remains one of the most valuable tools in a dentist’s arsenal for detecting and managing infections for better clinical outcomes.

Do dental X rays show infection

Oral Infections that X-Rays Can Detect

Some common oral infections and conditions X-rays help diagnose include:

1. Cavities or Tooth Decay

X-rays can reveal cavities (dental caries) by showing areas where the damage has penetrated through the enamel, reaching the dentin and pulp of the tooth. Early detection of cavities is crucial to prevent further decay, infection, and potential tooth loss.

2. Dental Caries

Dental caries is a bacterial infection that leads to both cavities and decay in the teeth. X-rays can pinpoint areas affected by dental caries, helping dentists plan appropriate treatments like fillings or root canals.

3. Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is a bacterial gum infection that damages the bone supporting the teeth. X-rays reveal bone loss around teeth, a key indicator of periodontal disease. Early detection aids in preventing tooth loss and gum tissue damage.

4. Periapical Abscess

A periapical abscess is a pus-filled sac around the tips of tooth roots, indicating an active infection. X-rays show the presence of an abscess, allowing dentists to determine the extent of the infection and plan necessary procedures, such as root canal therapy or tooth extraction.

5. Impacted Teeth

Impacted teeth are those that do not fully erupt, increasing the risk of infection due to partial exposure. X-rays provide a clear view of impacted teeth, helping dentists assess their position, angle, and potential infection risks. Extraction might be recommended to prevent infections and misalignment.

6. Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that can occur around teeth. X-rays reveal changes in the bone structure, indicating the presence of osteomyelitis. Timely detection is vital for appropriate treatment, often involving antibiotics and surgical intervention.

7. Cysts or Tumors

Cysts or tumors in the oral cavity can grow and become infected, posing serious health risks. X-rays provide a detailed view of abnormal growths, helping dentists identify the nature of the mass. Further diagnostic procedures, such as biopsies, might be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and plan treatment.

Best use of Different Types of Dental X-rays 

a. Bitewing X-Rays

Bitewing X-rays focus on the crowns of the back upper and lower teeth. They excel at detecting:

  • Interproximal cavities forming between the teeth that are otherwise hard to visualize.
  • Bone loss around the tooth roots caused by advancing periodontal disease.
  • An widening of the surrounding ligament space indicating an abscess.

b. Panoramic X-Rays

Panoramic X-rays provide a sweeping view of all upper and lower teeth along with surrounding bone in a single image. This lets dentists screen for:

  • Impacted or horizontally misaligned teeth that may develop cavities.
  • Cysts or benign tumors that can become infected.
  • Severe bone loss around multiple teeth due to periodontal disease.
  • Sinus infection caused by an upper molar infection.

c. Periapical X-Rays

Periapical X-rays focus on individual teeth roots and surrounding bone. They distinctly reveal:

  • Destruction of the tooth socket and bone loss from untreated infections.
  • Abscesses clearly visible at the tooth root apex.
  • The spread of decay deep into the tooth structure nearing the pulp chamber.
  • Severe periodontal infections through noticeable changes in the bony socket.

d. CT and Cone Beam Scans

CT technology provides detailed 3D views useful for identifying:

  • Abscess location and spread into facial planes.
  • Sinus infection originating from upper tooth decay.
  • Osteomyelitis lesions within the jaw bone.

Final Note

Detecting oral infections before they disseminate widely requires thorough visualization with dental X-rays. Radiographs afford dentists the detailed information they need to diagnose and treat infectious conditions promptly. Combining targeted X-rays provides comprehensive screening for infection-related oral health problems.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

  • Lilly

    Lilly, aka, Liza Lee, is a passionate community oral health officer and our lead writer. She's not only well-versed in performing a multitude of dental procedures, including preventive, restorative, and cosmetic, but also an avid writer. Driven by the significant oral health burden all around her, Lilly strives to build capacity and promote oral health. She envisions making a lasting impact by advancing research, prevention, and promotion efforts to alleviate oral health disparities. Please share your views and opinions on my posts.

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