The Importance of Routine Dental X-rays

Are you a patient that is apprehensive about the need and safety of routine dental x-rays? Kathy, one of our hygienists, shares her expertise on the importance of dental x-rays.


Dental x-rays are an essential part of the diagnosis process when screening for things such as dental decay (cavities), bone levels and overall dental health.

There are two types of dental x-rays; intra-oral (meaning inside the mouth) and extra-oral (meaning outside the mouth). Intra-oral are the most common type of dental x-ray. These include bitewing x-rays and periapical x-rays.

Bitewing x-rays are detailed x-rays of both the upper and lower back teeth. These are excellent films for detecting decay at an early stage on areas of the teeth that we cannot see clinically. They also give a good image of bone levels which help determine periodontal (gum tissue and bone) health. We try to cater to individual needs when it comes to bitewing x-rays. If you are not a cavity-prone person and have minimal restorations (fillings and crowns), we usually take bitewings every 18-24 months. If you have never had a cavity, we may even go every 3 years. On the other hand, if you are cavity-prone or have a heavily restored mouth, we will take bitewings every 12-18 months.

Periapical x-rays are individual images of a single tooth showing the apex (tip) of the tooth to rule out dental infections. If you have a dental emergency or a particular tooth that may be bothering you, we will most likely take a periapical x-ray to diagnose the problem. Frequency of periapical x-rays are on an as-needed basis.

A full series of x-rays are a combination of periapical and bitewing x-rays, usually 18-20 films, that gives us an excellent survey of your entire mouth. These should be taken every 5-10 years, depending on the history of dental problems or in cases of periodontal disease.

Extra-oral x-rays include panoramic and cephalometric x-rays, as well as CBCT scans. In screening for orthodontics, usually a panoramic and a cephalometric x-ray are taken. Panoramic x-rays are also an excellent image to evaluate 3rd molar (wisdom teeth) situations and screening for dental implant placement. Panoramics are also taken around age 6-8 to assess the permanent teeth that are developing under the gums. This image will pick up any congenitally missing teeth, as well as any impacted teeth and any abnormalities in the jaw. Panoramics can also be used on individuals who are unable to tolerate intra-oral periapical x-rays of a full series, such as those with very small mouths or severe gag reflexes. The film shows the sinuses, the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) and underneath the roots of the teeth. It can also pick up infections, and in rare cases, abnormalities including cysts or tumors.

Current technology in x-rays allow us to use digital imaging to take your films. There are several advantages to digital radiography.

  1. The images are stored in your computer patient file and can be viewed on a large monitor or printed out. This allows us to review your x-rays with you on a large computer screen.
  2. The image can be enhanced or enlarged, allowing us to zoom in on certain areas.
  3. Images can be emailed directly to specialists such as oral surgeons, endodontists (root canal specialists) and periodontists (gum specialists) for second opinions.
  4. Most importantly, digital technology uses significantly less radiation (up to 90%!) than traditional x-rays. (We also always use a lead shield with a cervical collar for added protection).

Remember, dental x-rays are the standard of care for providing the best diagnosis and treatment for your oral health!


Get to know Kathy!

What is your role at PVDA? Dental Hygienist

How long have you been with the team? 21 years

What is your favorite thing about being a part of team PVDA? My patients and my fellow team  members

What is your favorite healthy snack? Oranges

What is your favorite activity outside of the dental field? Traveling with my family

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, what is one piece of advice you can give? Stay active and keep your mind engaged!


Pioneer Valley Dental Arts
171 Dwight Road, Suite 200
Longmeadow, MA 01106

New Patients (413) 327-9858

Current Patients (413) 567-4227


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