The Truth About Dental X-Ray Safety And Why We Need Them

Patients often ask us why they need dental x-rays and are concerned about their safety.

We’re here to inform you!

Why do you need dental x-rays?

Dental radiographs (x-rays) are the only way to see in between your teeth to check for tooth decay (cavities) as well as to evaluate the jaw bone around the teeth, which is important in diagnosing periodontal disease (bone loss around teeth). Without dental x-rays, we cannot properly make these diagnoses. If x-rays are taken regularly, issues can be caught and treated before they become bigger (and generally more painful) problems.

Are dental x-rays safe?

Many patients are concerned with the amount of radiation coming from dental x-rays. Our office uses digital x-rays, which emit nearly 80 to 90% less radiation than the old-fashioned film x-rays. Fun fact: Eating a banana gives you almost the same amount of radiation as one digital x-ray!

What kinds of x-rays do we take?

There are several different types of x-rays. Bitewing x-rays show your back teeth biting together. They are known as “check-up” x-rays and are usually taken once a year. These x-rays are ideal for diagnosing cavities in between your teeth and also to show bone levels around your teeth.

Panoramic X-Ray

A panoramic x-ray rotates around your head to show all of your teeth, your TMJ joint, and your maxillary sinuses. This is taken as needed. For example, panoramic x-rays are taken on children to show how the adult teeth are developing and if orthodontic treatment is needed. This x-ray also shows if any permanent teeth are genetically missing and where the wisdom teeth are located. In many cases a panoramic x-ray is the only diagnostic way to see impacted (not yet erupted) wisdom teeth.

Full Mouth X-Ray

A full mouth series of x-rays (FMX, for short) includes 18 images. A FMX shows every tooth in your mouth in detail. These types of x-rays are used to diagnose abscessed teeth, cavities, and periodontal disease. The FMX includes bite wing (check-up) x-rays. It is taken, on average, every 3 to 5 years; although, the frequency varies by patient. For example, an FMX could be taken more frequently on a patient who is prone to getting cavities and less frequently on a patient who has never had a cavity.


A CBCT scan is a CAT scan of your teeth and jaw. This image, like the panoramic x-ray, is taken by the machine that rotates around your head. But, while the panoramic x-ray and other dental x-rays are two-dimensional (2-D), CBCT scans are three-dimensional (3-D).
The 3-D CAT scan image allows us to more accurately see deterioration in the jaw bone from an abscessed tooth. It is extremely valuable in properly diagnosing the cause of a toothache and abscess because it shows views not shown on regular 2-D x-rays.

CBCT scans are becoming the standard of care for placing implants. This is because they allow for extreme accuracy. They show exactly where your nerves and blood vessels are located (which is important to know to avoid nerve damage when an implant is placed), the exact width and height of the bone, and how much space there is for the implant (which helps us determine which length and diameter implant is needed). In addition, the CBCT scan allows for a pre-operative virtual surgery to be planned using computer software. This provides extreme accuracy for the surgery and reduces surgery time because all the planning is done prior to surgery.

Do you need x-rays?

Bite wing x-rays, panoramic x-rays, full mouth series and CBCT scans are all taken digitally in our office. If you have any questions or would like more details, please comment or give us a call. We love to keep you informed, and our goal is your optimum oral health!