Orthodontic Diagnostic X-ray – Its Types and Uses

In today’s world, most people have become conscious about the way they smile. People want to have their teeth straightened in the best and safest way possible. Most often, people opt for orthodontic treatments such as braces and Invisalign to naturally modify the alignment of their teeth and enhance their smile.

Orthodontic treatment is a transforming procedure that requires accurate diagnosis and treatment planning to achieve the desired results. And nothing better than orthodontic x-rays help to provide a detailed view of the malocclusion and aid the dentist in determining the correct treatment.


Orthodontic x-rays consist of three main types of dental radiographs, which are crucial to identify the condition, ensure correct diagnosis, and form an immediate treatment plan. Orthodontic x-rays include the cephalometric, panoramic x-ray, and CBCT. Collectively, orthodontic x-rays provide information about the jaws, teeth, alveolar bone, and temporomandibular joint. Since most of these x-rays can be taken digitally, orthodontic x-rays are considered safe to use for periodic evaluations.

Today’s article will highlight the types of orthodontic radiographs. Furthermore, we will discuss the indications and safety of orthodontic x-rays.

What are orthodontic x-rays?

Orthodontic x-rays consist of a range of dental x-rays that are primarily used to identify and diagnose the type of malocclusion. Additionally, orthodontic x-rays serve as a guide to check the treatment progress. (1) Regular dental x-rays, such as the periapical radiograph or bitewing, do not provide all of the information required by the orthodontist.

Orthodontic x-rays are specialized to view both the jaws in their respective relationships with one another. Moreover, orthodontic x-rays provide detailed images of the tooth root that plays a crucial part in moving the teeth.

What are the types of orthodontic x-rays?

Typically, there are three main types of dental x-rays that are particularly beneficial in orthodontic diagnosis. These x-rays are listed below as follows –

Cephalometric radiograph

Cephalometric x-ray, also known as lateral ceph, is one of the essential types of dental x-ray used in orthodontics. It is an extraoral radiograph that concentrates on the patient’s profile and provides a side view of the head. Cephalometric x-ray offers detailed information about the position of the jaws and the front teeth. Moreover, it gives a baseline to monitor the growth of jaws in children. (2)

Cephalometric x-rays take few seconds to minutes to develop. Once, developed they are used for the following purposes –

  • As a diagnostic x-ray to view the relationship between the jaws and teeth (3)
  • To see the growth pattern of the jaw and teeth especially in young children
  • As a guide to determine the course of procedure and progress of the treatment

Ideally, cephalometric radiographs are taken during the preliminary and final stages of orthodontic treatment. However, a dentist may take a third lateral ceph in the middle of ongoing orthodontic treatment to monitor the progress.

Panoramic x-ray

Panoramic x-rays are a two-dimensional extraoral radiograph that displays information about both the jaws, upper and lower teeth, alveolar bone, and temporomandibular joint. Usually, during a panoramic x-ray, the patient is asked to bite down on a specialized tool to correctly position the face of the patient. The x-ray is then taken and can be viewed digitally on a computer screen or an x-ray film. (4)

Panoramic x-ray serves many purposes in orthodontics, such as –

  • Diagnose wisdom teeth impaction
  • Identify missing teeth or supernumerary teeth
  • Detect the presence or progression of advanced periodontal disease
  • Assess the growth and development of the temporomandibular joint
  • Detect dental abnormalities that may affect the health of the alveolar bone (5)
  • Detect the signs of oral cancer


Cone Beam computed tomography (CBCT) is an advanced technology used in the field of dentistry. It has recently gained more popularity because of its 3-Dimensional view that helps to diagnose and plan treatment for braces efficiently. (6)

The spatial information provided by CBCT is of great importance in planning orthodontic treatment for cleft palate patients and patients with multiple tooth impactions. Another benefit od CBCT is that it can provide different sectional views to determine the quality of alveolar bone and health of the tooth roots.

What is the risk of radiation exposure from orthodontic x-rays?

The amount of radiation exposure received from orthodontic x-rays is typically 0.010 millisieverts, which more or less sums up to the radiation you receive from the sun in one day. Therefore, orthodontic x-rays are safe and pose a minimal health risk, if any. (7)

Some patients may ask the orthodontist to plan a treatment using previously taken diagnostic x-rays. However, it is essential to understand that orthodontic diagnosis requires a full view of the mouth. Additionally, accurate diagnosis of malocclusion is made by studying the relationship between the jaws and teeth on both the jaws, which can only be viewed through an orthodontic x-ray.

The minimal radiation exposure received by the orthodontic x-ray can still be reduced by using a lead apron and thyroid collar.

What is the cost of orthodontic x-rays?

Usually, a panoramic and cephalometric x-ray may cost around $ 60 – $200 each. Additionally, a CBCT scan may range between $100 and $500. However, most dental insurance covers the cost of orthodontic x-rays. Moreover, many dental offices provide discount policies to benefit patients who require orthodontic care.

It is always better to consult your nearest dentist to get information about an ongoing discount policy or insurance coverage for orthodontic x-ray and treatment.


Take away message

Now that you have learned about orthodontic x-rays, you’ll be able to understand its importance in properly diagnosing and treatment planning. Orthodontic x-rays like cephalometric, panoramic, and CBCT collectively provide essential information that helps the dentist to identify the position of the jaw and teeth. Moreover, they help to diagnose any dental abnormality, missing teeth, and toot impactions that may affect the progress of the treatment.

As far as safety is concerned, orthodontic x-rays provide minimal radiation exposure that equates to the daily sun exposure of an individual. Therefore, they are safe for both children and adults. Most dental insurance covers the cost of orthodontic x-ray, which solves the problem of affordability. Get a consultation from an orthodontist today and get one step closer to getting the smile you’ve always wanted.


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