Dental X-Rays

Dental x-rays, or radiographs, are used first of all to establish a diagnosis, and then kept in your file as a reference. Dentists may use either traditional film or digital x-rays.


You must always wear a protective lead apron when dental x-rays are taken. Note that dental x-rays expose you to only very small amounts of radiation.


How often you need dental x-rays depends on your oral health and the treatments you are receiving.


Here are a few situations where X-rays may need to be taken:

  • During a recall exam, if the dentist detects anything unusual or if you have symptoms.
  • When the patient’s medical history requires it.
  • In children who have a higher risk for cavities.
  • To check the success of certain treatments, such as crowns, bridges, root canals and orthodontic work.

If you don’t know why your dentist wants to take x-rays, feel free to ask.



  • A periapical x-ray shows a group of upper or lower teeth so as to better examine the root, crown and supporting bone structure of the teeth.
  • An interproximal (bitewing) x-ray shows the crowns of the upper and lower teeth; it allows the dentist to detect cavities between the posterior teeth (at the back of your mouth) and evaluate the level of the supporting bone structure.
  • A panoramic x-ray (Panorex) shows all the teeth and adjacent structures.
  • A cephalogram is an x-ray of the skull and jaws, useful in orthodontics to evaluate bone growth and tooth development.
Can you refuse to have x-rays taken?

It is up to the patient to accept or refuse dental x-rays. However, if your dentist feels that they are essential, he or she may refuse to treat you or to carry out a specific treatment.

Are you pregnant, or you think you might be?

Talk to the dentist or hygienist before they take x-rays. If you change dentists, remember to ask for a copy of the x-rays in your file. That way you may not need to have new ones taken.

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