Treating dental issues before they become a serious problem can save you pain and money.  Dental x-rays can show areas of concern before they become symptomatic. They are a very important diagnostic tool for dental professionals.

Dental X-rays and why they are needed

Dental x-rays, also called radiographs, are basically two-dimensional images that show the tooth anatomy and bone in your mouth.  Dental X-rays are either intraoral (inside the mouth) or extraoral (outside the mouth). Some of the most common radiographs taken are:


These are intraoral images. They focus on the entire tooth and show it all the way from the crown to the tip of the root.


Bitewings are also intraoral images. They show the crowns of both the upper and lower posterior teeth on the same image.  They are most often taken to check for cavities between the teeth.


Panoramic radiographs are extraoral.  They show the entire oral cavity including the teeth, jawbones and joints, and sinus areas.  They are often taken to asses tooth development, wisdom teeth, and for orthodontic purposes.

Dental x-rays are used to evaluate the existence and extent of potential cavities (especially in-between the teeth or under existing restorations), condition of present dental work,  check tooth development, assess root health (presence of infection), check bone health, impacted teeth, joint health, fractures, and presence of cysts and tumours, jaw development. Basically, the dentist will be able to see things that they can’t see with a visual examination.  Without dental x-rays, the dentist cannot make an accurate diagnosis.

Film versus Digital

With the advancement in technology, digital x-rays are becoming more common. Digital radiography uses an X-ray sensor instead of film to produce the image. Digital X-rays require less radiation exposure (approximately 50-80% less than film).  They are faster since they can show the image almost instantly on a screen.  The image can be enhanced and transferred easily if needed as well.


Dental X-rays are considered very safe.  Over the years many advancements have been made to reduce the number of radiation patients receives.  Digital dental x-rays have a very low dose of radiation.  According to the American Dental Association (ADA) 4 digital bitewings result in 0.005 mSv of radiation exposure. To put this into perspective, a person is exposed to approximately 0.01 mSv during a 2.5-hour airplane flight.  To further reduce your exposure, a lead apron with a thyroid collar is used while the x-rays are taken. This minimizes the exposure to your vital organs and thyroid.

Frequency of Dental X-rays

How often should you have dental X-rays taken? There is no easy answer to this question as it depends on many different factors.  Some of these include the present state of your oral health and your general health history, your age, presenting complaints, and risk factors for various conditions.   People who are more at risk of dental problems include:

  • Adults with a lot of present dental work
  • Smokers
  • People who have gum disease
  • People with dry mouth
  • Children

Your oral health is very important to us.  At Sherwood Dental, we always strive to provide you with the best possible treatment.  Dental x-rays are very important diagnostic tools we use, but we always make sure that radiographs are taken on a case-by-case basis to ensure you are not only getting the best quality dental care but also the safest treatment possible.

DISCLAIMER: The advice offered is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. It is no way to offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendations for your particular situation.  Any advice provided is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified dentist.