Article written by: Victoria Clark - Hygienist

OPGs are an amazing diagnostic tool for detecting irregular teeth, cysts, tumors and infections.

Back in the day, a dentist would place a small flexible object in your mouth and proceed to take an X-ray so they could look at a specific tooth that was causing a person concern. Of course this worked efficiently for the patient and, in those times, was all that was deemed necessary. Yet in recent years we have looked at dentistry more from a preventive approach and have realised that we need to extend our focus from just one tooth to the mouth as a whole. Yes, we still do the in-mouth small radiographs, which are increasingly ‘digital', and take a focused view of a specific area or tooth. These are imperative for detecting certain tooth infections or diseases and will always be a tool to focus on specific areas of the mouth, but why are we asking for bigger and better?

If you have been to a comprehensive practice within the past two years you have probably heard the phrase ‘OPG' and have some knowledge of what it is. But sometimes a visit to a dentist can be an anxious time - the information can be overwhelming or not effectively retained. This is why I have chosen to write this article so I can clarify why certain radiographs (X-rays) are of much benefit to the dental profession.

So, have you heard of an OPG? What it is used for in the dental profession? What do those three capital letters OPG stand for? First of all, they stand for Orthopantomogram and the technology captures a two-dimensional image of the three-dimensional areas between ear to ear and nose to chin. What makes it so helpful is that it blurs surrounding objects, such as the skull, allowing the focus to be of the jawbone, teeth and internal sinuses of the skull in that region.

This obviously makes for an amazing overall diagnostic tool from a dental prospective and gives us an otherwise blind view of the whole jaw structure. We can use this radiograph image to accurately detect or diagnose impacted (stuck in the jawbone), crowded or infected wisdom teeth that may or not be present, even partially, in the mouth. Believe it or not, but some people don't develop adult teeth or have teeth in unusual places in the jaw that cannot be detected or discovered without an OPG. More seriously, we can detect many other disorders that can be overlooked by standard in-surgery X-ray and can be life threatening. We have frequently had patients attend our practice with a recent OPG radiograph that shows a mass in the jawbone that was previously not known about. This could be as low grade as a cyst or as aggressive as a tumour or bone cancer. Often, and probably the most common, use of an OPG is for the detection of a non-painful yet destructive infection at the base of a tooth root which causes the death of a tooth or the presence of an often silent, non-painful and progressing jawbone infection called periodontal disease. Whether it's non-painful, non-descript or extremely serious condition, OPGs an essential and non-compromising tool used by our professional staff to better your dental health and take care of your overall general health.

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