Digital Radiographs (X-Rays)

The FAQ’s regarding dental x-rays:

Q: What is an x-ray?

A: An x-ray is a type of radiation created by using large amounts of electricity to produce a diagnostic image.

Q: What structures can be seen on an x-ray that cannot otherwise be seen?

A: Dental x-rays show everything below the gums that are not able to be seen with the naked eye.  The most important structures seen are the roots of the teeth, the level of the bone support system, sinuses, the jaws, etc.

Q: What are you looking for on a dental x-ray?

A: We look for cavities (caries), infections, periodontal (gum) disease, pathology, fractures of teeth, bone, orbit (eye), jaws, etc.

Q: Who needs x-rays and how often?

A:  Everyone needs x-rays, sometimes.  Everyone needs them at different intervals that ware determined by several factors that you can discuss with your dentist.   If you have had recent radiation therapy, are unable to open properly, or are in pain, please discuss the use of dental x-rays to determine which type of x-ray is best.

Q: What types of x-rays are taken at your office?

A: The dental diagnostic images (x-rays) taken in our office are:

– Periapical film (or PA) is used to visualize a one tooth problem showing the whole

tooth/teeth including the root system.

– Bitewings (2-8 images) are used to screen at your checkup visits every 6-12 months.

– Full Mouth Series (or FMX – 18-20 images) is used to obtain a baseline, much like an

EKG.  It aids in the screening, diagnosis and prognosis assessments needed to create

a comprehensive customized treatment solution plan to help you achieve optimal oral health.

Q: Are dental x-rays safe?

A: Yes and no.  Routine x-rays are safe in safe doses.  Too much radiation can be harmful.  Digital x-rays, however, have an exceptionally low dose of radiation and signifies a minor contribution to the cumulative (total) exposure from all sources of radiation we encounter every day.  Although dental x-rays involve small amounts of radiation, the levels are low and these x-rays are central for achieving optimal oral health!

A frequently asked question at our office is, “How often should I have x-rays taken?” This is a great question! As a general rule of thumb, you should get a set of bitewings taken once a year, and a full mouth series (FMX) once every 3 years. Of course, if you are experiencing pain (other problems/concerns/suspicion) in between x rays, additional ones may need to be taken to diagnose what is going on. In this post we’ll explore the risk of radiation from dental x-rays and the factors that determine how often you need x-rays taken.

Factors that determine how often you should have dental x-rays taken:

Existing Restorations and Previous Decay

The number one factor for determining how often you need dental x-rays taken is the amount of fillings or restorations you already have in your mouth. If you have multiple fillings or other dental restorations, you need to have x-rays taken more often. It is important not only to monitor the state of the fillings and restorations you have, but also to keep an eye on the surrounding teeth because you are more prone to decay.


Certain ages are more prone to specific complications, and therefore need to have x-rays taken more frequently to check for decay or other possible complications. An example of this would be around age 17 wisdom teeth usually come in, and need to be looked at through x-rays to see if they are causing problems and need to be removed. Also, children’s teeth are more susceptible to cavities and need to be x-rayed more often.

Overall Oral Health

Plain and simple: Some people are more prone to cavities and/or gum disease. People that have shown that they are at a higher risk of getting cavities or gum disease need to have dental x-rays taken more often, to catch signs of these at the earliest stages possible. On the contrary, patients that have shown that they are not cavity-prone can go longer in between x-rays.

Previous Operations and Procedures

Patients that have had serious oral surgeries or restorations need to keep a closer eye on what is going on with their oral health than others. X-rays not only detect cavities but also can detect other complications like bone degeneration that could be from previous extractions or other things. For example, patients with dental implants need to have x rays taken regularly to monitor any irregularities or changes.


Some medications can cause dry mouth, and make you more susceptible to decay. Other medications can cause other complications to oral health, such as weaker bone. People taking medications that affect their oral health need to have x rays taken more often.


Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately), where you grew up may influence how often you need to have x-rays taken. Some cities have higher amounts of fluoride in the water source, which has shown to promote oral health in those areas. If you grew up somewhere that fluoride wasn’t a part of the drinking source, you should get x-rays more often to keep an eye on decay.

Cancer Treatment

Having undergone cancer treatments is an important factor in determining how often you should have dental x-rays taken. Some cancer treatments such as chemo and radiation therapy can have negative effects on teeth and surrounding bone and should be monitored. Always let your dentist know what type of cancer treatments you have undergon so that they can plan your x-ray treatment accordingly and safely.

Why do I need dental x-rays?

Dental x rays are one of the most important parts of maintaining good oral health because they give the dentist a picture of what is going on beneath the surface of the teeth. Having x rays taken regularly can diagnose and prevent serious complications that would otherwise go unnoticed.

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