Story: Dental care

Early dental X-ray, around 1910

Early dental X-ray, around 1910

In the early 20th century New Zealand dentists started to use X-rays to identify decay in patients' teeth that was not immediately visible. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation used to take images of the human body. The most familiar use of X-rays is to check teeth and bones, which absorb the waves of electromagnetic radiation and show up on X-ray negatives as light and white. Dental caries (decay) appear in X-ray images as dark places on light, white teeth. Using X-rays as diagnostic tools, dentists can drill into teeth and remove decay. A variety of substances are then used to fill the holes created. Initially gold or mixtures of gold and other metals were used, but later amalgam (usually a mixture of mercury, silver, tin and copper) became more common, especially for back teeth that were not easily visible.

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Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/2-037844-F

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Andrew Schmidt and Susan Moffat, 'Dental care - Professional dentistry', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/30582/early-dental-x-ray-around-1910 (accessed 2 April 2020)

Story by Andrew Schmidt and Susan Moffat, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 6 Nov 2018