Diagnosis tools in dentistry to check teeth, tongue and gums

Too many people mistakenly believe that they need to see a dentist only if they are in pain or think something is wrong, but they’re missing the bigger picture. A dental visit means being examined by a doctor of oral health capable of diagnosing and treating conditions that can range from routine to extremely complex.

As you visit your doctor for an oral examination, your understanding perhaps could be that the entire focus of examination is surrounded across our teeth. However, a proper oral diagnosis would require examinations of other parts. This includes parts of the oral and facial anatomy. This includes areas inside and around the mouth such as the gums, lips, tongue, the hard and soft palate as well. Examinations are also performed outside the oral region such as the skin, muscles, and glands inside the neck and the temporomandibular joints. A thorough dental examination will be your first line of defense.

Comprehensive oral exam

Dentists’ areas of care include not only their patients’ teeth and gums but also the muscles of the head, neck and jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, the nervous system of the head and neck and other areas. During a comprehensive exam, dentists examine the teeth and gums, but they also look for lumps, swellings, discolorations, ulcerations — any abnormality. When appropriate, they perform procedures such as biopsies, diagnostic tests for chronic or infectious diseases, salivary gland function, and screening tests for oral cancer. In addition, dentists can spot early warning signs in the mouth that may indicate disease elsewhere in the body.

Comprehensive oral exam

A comprehensive dental exam will be performed by your dentist at your initial dental visit.  At regular check-up exams, your dentist and hygienist will include the following:

  • Examination of diagnostic x-rays (digital radiographs): Essential for detection of decay, tumors, cysts, and bone loss.  X-rays also help determine tooth and root positions.
  • Intraoral camera evaluation: Used as an aid in communicating to the patient areas of concern discovered during the visual exam.
  • Oral cancer screening: Check the face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues, and gums for any signs of oral cancer.
  • Gum disease evaluation: Check the gums and bone around the teeth for any signs of periodontal disease.
  • Examination of tooth decay: All tooth surfaces will be checked for decay with special dental instruments.
  • Examination of existing restorations: Check current fillings, crowns, etc.
  • Treatment plan presented: Treatment options and recommendations will be discussed.

Oral Diagnostic tools

So, the real question is, how are the diseases or abnormalities inside the mouth discovered? An obvious approach from your dentist will be to question you regarding any changes that you might have come across, especially in areas of your face, mouth, and neck. The initial phases of the examination will be visually inspected, certain areas will be palpated by gently touching or pressing with fingers. They made also be probed by using certain tools such as a Periodontal probe. If needed are when additional tests in the form of X-rays are conducted to have a better understanding of the condition.

Here are some of the tools and instruments that dentists use in order to provide your condition with a proper diagnosis for carrying our further treatment:

Digital X-rays

X-rays are one of the best preventative tools in dentistry. As a visual exam only allows limited visibility of a tooth and is not able to tell the whole story. By using x-rays, dentists are able to assess the over-all health of a tooth, thereby saving time and money; preserving tooth structure and preventing painful situations.

Digital X-rays

Digital X-rays are almost similar to that of digital radiography. In this, your dentist will insert a sensor into the mouth to capture the images of the teeth. This is the safest form of getting images of your teeth without unnecessary radiation. It is also considered to better in terms of accuracy as compared to conventional X-rays. It is a faster process, as well as digital images, are instantaneously generated. As there dentists don’t use films of inks in this process, it is also a smarter option of radiography.

Digital X-rays help to take clear, sharp, and accurate dental images of your teeth on a screen right in front of you. There is no waiting time for the film to be developed. This allows the dentist to review the results immediately. Digital X-rays produce high definition images as compared to the conventional X- rays. This will allow the specialists to zoom into the images for proper analysis of the case and hence provide an accurate diagnosis.

Dental x-rays may reveal:

  • Abscesses or cysts
  • Bone loss
  • Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors
  • Decay between the teeth
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Poor tooth and root positions
  • Problems inside a tooth or below the gum line

Detecting and treating dental problems at an early stage can save you time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and your teeth!

Digital Radiographs

Digital Radiographs are an important diagnostic tool for dentists. These hi-tech radiograph instruments will allow dentists to study the anatomy of the mouth on a wide computer screen. These radiographs can be easily be copied and printed. It will also help dentists have an insight into the patient’s current and previous condition.

Dental Radiography has the ability to capture dental X-ray images with precision with dedicated software that runs the tool. This technology is able to provide state-of-the-art dental images without exposing yourself to harmful radiation. Its technology is to provide the patients with the best services without having to fear the possible side-effects.

Intraoral Camera

This is a vital diagnostic and educational tool. The device is a miniature video camera that moves inside the mouth to generate a visual video exam of the individual tooth. The images that are generated can be stored, examined, and printed if needed. This technology will help diagnose several dental problems at an earlier stage, can be used to efficiently track treatment progress, also, images of tooth decay can be submitted along with dental insurances to maximize claims.

Intraoral Camera

Panoramic X-ray

Panoramic X-rays are two-dimensional images of the face and teeth. These X-rays are simple to perform and offer a view that is generally invisible to the naked eye. Unlike the traditional X- rays that need to be taken every year, Panoramic X-rays need only be taken as and when the need demands. When dental X-rays require the patient to place the film inside their mouths, the panoramic film is hidden inside a facility that rotates outside the head.

Panoramic X-ray

Radiation Free Diagnosis

Low radiation dental diagnostic tools are becoming popular these days as they are the most sought after. These procedures are also meant to be safer and more precise in evaluating the patient’s dental health.

Lasers in Dental Diagnosis

As diagnostic tools, lasers are being used to aid in the detection of dental disease in earlier stages than traditional methods. “Laser fluorescence” diagnostic lasers are very effective in diagnosing pit and fissure decay, the tiny areas in the biting surfaces of teeth where a traditional dental explorer (a needle-like pointed instrument) cannot reach. The optical properties of the bacteria in decayed teeth produce fluorescence, a glowing light which can be picked up by a laser detector. They are an excellent complement to oral examinations aiding in identification of caries (tooth decay) that might be missed by visual inspection alone. They also allow teeth to be monitored from one visit to the next, to determine if decay is “arrested” or “progressive” and therefore at what point treatment is truly needed.

Lasers in Dental Diagnosis

Lasers can also aid in the detection and localization of dental calculus beneath the gums. Calculus (tartar) is hardened or calcified bacterial plaque that sticks hard to the teeth. Finding and removing this calculus is one of the goals of periodontal (gum) therapy.

Most recently, lasers have been developed which “fluoresce” healthy oral soft tissue. By identifying areas that fluoresce (glow) and those that don’t, lasers are being used as a tool in detecting oral cancer at very early stages and are an aid in the detection and localization of abnormal tissues. Occasionally tissues become “dysplastic” (dys-altered, plasia-growth), or pre-cancerous, or worse yet, cancerous. Because of their precision, lasers are very useful for removing tissue close to the margins or edges of where diseased tissue meets healthy tissue. This precision and minimally invasive approach is particularly useful in determining these boundaries and exactly where to remove or excise unhealthy tissue, whether benign or malignant.


How often should dental x-rays be taken?

The need for dental x-rays depends on each patient’s individual dental health needs based on the review of your medical and dental history, dental exam, signs and symptoms, age consideration, and risk for disease.

A full mouth series of dental x-rays is recommended for new patients or a recent diagnostic quality copy may suffice.  A full series is usually good for three to five years.  Bite-wing x-rays (x-rays of top and bottom teeth biting together) are taken at recall (check-up) visits and are generally recommended once a year to detect new dental problems.

Are dental x-rays safe?

A new system of taking X-rays, called digital radiography, reduces radiation by as much as 80 percent compared to traditional dental x-rays.

We are all exposed to natural radiation in our environment.  The amount of radiation exposure from a full mouth series of x-rays is equal to the amount a person receives in a single day from natural sources.

Dental x-rays produce a low level of radiation and are considered safe.  Precautions to limit the patient’s exposure to radiation include using lead apron shields to protect the body and using digital sensors to reduce the exposure time of each x-ray.