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All About Dental X-Rays

During your routine dental visits, sometimes your dentist or hygienist will want to take x-rays. You’ll also need additional dental x-rays when you have certain types of treatment. If you have questions about the types of films being taken or the reason why they’re needed, talk to your dentist about your concerns. Here is a rundown of the most common types of dental x-rays and why they are used.


The kind of films that are taken during your cleanings every year or two are called bitewings. They consist of four films, two on each side of your mouth. Each x-ray shows the crowns of the upper and lower bicuspids or molars. The frequency that you have bitewings done depends on your dental history; some people have them done every six months, and some can go two years between x-rays. Bitewings show areas of decay, particularly between the teeth, where it’s difficult to see with a visual exam.

Periapicals, or PAs

If you are having trouble with a tooth, your dentist will likely order a periapical film, also called a PA. A PA will allow the dentist to see the entire tooth, from the crown to the tip of the root (called the apex). He or she will be able to see if there is a filling or decay close to the nerve space or if there is a bone abscess at the tip of the root. Sometimes a periapical x-ray will also show if the tooth is cracked.

Full Mouth Series

A full-mouth series of dental x-rays is four bitewings plus enough PAs to show each tooth. This is done every three to five years, depending on your dental health and how much work you have had done or will be having done. Your dentist will use these films to track changes over time.

Panoramic X-Rays

A panoramic film is one larger x-ray that captures your entire jaw. You will stand still while the camera rotates around your head. Sometimes, these can be used in place of a full-mouth series. If you are having any orthodontic work or if you are dealing with bone loss or sinus issues, a panoramic film will be taken.

Dental x-rays, in general, are very safe because they are a low dose of radiation. If you are pregnant or have health concerns that cause you to avoid radiation, talk to your dentist; in many cases, x-rays can be postponed. If you need certain treatment, such as a root canal, your dentist will go over whether the benefits of the x-ray outweigh the risks of not having one. Call our office at any time if you have concerns about your dental health.

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