A bitewing is a type of x-ray image which is taken by a dentist to assess oral health or to look at a particular area of the mouth. Also known as a bite wing, 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 gotten a bitewing x-ray, and they have probably been shown the film by a dentist in the process of having a procedure or situation explained.
In this type of x-ray, the film includes a small tab which is held between the closed teeth. With the patient holding very still, the film is exposed with the use of an external x-ray machine, and then removed and developed. Once developed, the film will show several lower and upper teeth, along with their roots.
Sometimes, dentists will order a complete set of x-rays, in which the entire mouth is x-rayed with a series of progressive overlapping images. This is usually done when a patient first visits a dental practice, or when someone has not visited the dentist in some time. Doctors can also order bitewings of various areas of the mouth, including closeups of teeth which have been repaired so that the dentist can confirm that the repair was done properly 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 he or she has a small mouth, because the film can be hard, and it has to be large, to ensure that the x-ray captures everything. Most dentist's offices are well aware of the comfort issue and the staff may have tips to help people cope with the unpleasant sensation. It is also not that uncommon to gag when the film is placed in the mouth.
Getting x-rays is important, because they can reveal signs of dental problems which are not visible on a basic physical examination. Dentists usually do not recommend x-rays unless they believe that the images are necessary and appropriate, as they want to limit exposure to radiation. These x-rays can reveal information about how teeth are developing, whether or not teeth are moving and becoming crowded, and if signs of decay are present in the mouth. By catching these problems early, a dentist can save a patient a great deal of money and pain.