Dental Xrays are used to show dentists the surfaces between the teeth. No matter how good your dentist’s eyes are, it is virtually impossible to see all surfaces without taking radiographs. They are taken to get a complete view of all aspects of both teeth and gums.

There are 3 main types of xrays that are typically taken:

  • Panoramic Xrays or Panorex- These are not taken every visit, but show your entire jaw, sinuses, and TMJ.
  • Bitewings- These are the ones that are most often taken, which show between the teeth. Dentists use these to detect cavities between teeth, or to see fillings or crown margins.
  • Periapicals- These are used to see the roots of the teeth, to detect infections or help to determine the severity of any gum disease present.

Most dental offices have mounted dental xray devices, but there is also a handheld device, called the Nomad, which allows dental xrays to be taken in a much easier manner. It is cordless, has a ring which reduces exposure and makes it safe for the operator to be in the room while the xray is being taken.

Other types of dental xrays that are used, but they are less common, such as:

  • Lateral Cephalometric View
  • Waters View
  • Postero-Anterior View
  • Submental Vertex
  • Oblique Views
  • Occlusal

They are used in orthodontics, pediatrics, or to see specific structures or potential pathological concerns.

Below is a panoramic xray, which helps to show if any pathology is present; such as CYSTS, EXTRA (SUPERNUMERARY) TEETH, IMPACTED WISDOM TEETH, TUMORS, or other abnormal structures.

Below is what a cavity looks like on a typical bitewing xray. The arrows are surrounding a dark shadow, which indicates decay.


Due to modern advances, the amount of radiation that one receives from even a full mouth set of dental radiographs is very minimal. Comparable to the amount of radiation that you’d receive walking around on the street all day, and much less than you’d receive from say a CT scan or chest xray in a medical office.


Despite the minimal radiation exposure, it is generally recommended to not take radiographs during the first trimester except for in emergent situations. During the second and third trimesters, it is acceptable, however some providers find it prudent to delay any routine dental xrays until after the patient delivers.

It depends.

At the initial visit, the dentist may take either a full mouth set of films, or some take a panorex and some additional films.

After the initial visit, it is at the discretion of the dentist how often they should be taken.

Some general guidelines however.

If you get cavities regularly, you should probably have films taken at least every year.

If you have a history of cavities, you should probably have dental xrays taken every year.

If you have poor oral hygiene, you should probably have films taken every year.

Why else?

If you have new cavities at every visit If you have gingival recession If you are under 18 years of age

After a patient has a proven track record of not getting new cavities, they often can have films taken less frequently

Under the age of 18, patients often undergo fairly drastic changes. Such drastic changes may dramatically change the outlook in the mouth.

Even if you have never had a cavity in your life,

It is wise to have films taken at regular intervals because of all the other items that can show up (i.e, PATHOLOGY, PERIODONTAL DISEASE, and INFECTIONS).

Also, the bacteria can change in your mouth, so one of these days you very well may get cavities.

If you have concerns about the frequency in which your dentist takes radiographs, feel free to ask.

Keep in mind however, that the dentist has had extensive training, so let him or her do their job.

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