What is a bite?

A bite is a type of x-ray image that is taken by a dentist to assess oral health or to look at a particular area of ​​the mouth. Also known as a bitewing, the bitewing x-ray is the most common type of dental x-ray. Most people who have received x-rays at the dentist's office have received a bitewing x-ray, and were probably shown the film by a dentist in the process of explaining a procedure or situation.

In this type of x-ray, the film includes a small tab that is held between the closed teeth. With the patient very still, the film is exposed using an external x-ray machine, and then removed and developed. Once developed, the film will show several upper and lower teeth, along with their roots.

Sometimes dentists will order a full set of bitewing x-rays, in which the entire mouth is x-rayed with a series of progressive superimposed images. This is usually done when a patient visits a dental office for the first time, or when someone has not been to the dentist in some time. Doctors may also order bites of various areas of the mouth, including close-ups of the teeth that have been repaired so the dentist can confirm that the repair was done correctly and that it is healing well. X-rays are usually ordered after any extraction or filling procedure for this reason.

It can be uncomfortable for a patient to receive a bitewing x-ray, especially if they have a small mouth, because the film can be hard, and it needs to be large, to ensure the x-ray captures everything. Most dental offices are well aware of the comfort issue, and the staff can provide advice to help people cope with the unpleasant sensation. It is also not uncommon to gag when the film is placed in the mouth.

Getting x-rays is important, as they can reveal signs of dental problems that aren't visible on a basic physical exam. Dentists generally do not recommend x-rays unless they believe imaging is necessary and appropriate, as they want to limit radiation exposure. Bites can reveal information about how teeth are developing, whether teeth are moving and crowding, and whether there are signs of tooth decay in the mouth. By detecting these problems early, a dentist can save a patient a great deal of money and pain.

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