Getting x-rays is nothing to worry about. Also known as radiographs, they allow your dentist to see inside your teeth. Viewing the whole tooth this way, including the roots, jaw, and facial bone composition makes it easier for your dentist to find and treat problems before they worsen. This article helps explain dental x-rays and why they’re important.


X-rays are a valuable diagnostic tool for your teeth, some common things your dentist will be looking out for include:

  • Decay between teeth, or even below the fillings.
  • Tumors or cysts.
  • Your teeth’s positioning to determine if braces, dentures, or an implant are needed.


There are only two types of x-rays you’ll encounter during a dental exam.

  1. EXTRAORAL RADIOGRAPHS: Taken with the film outside the mouth. These x-rays focus on the jaw and skull. They can include Panoramic X-rays showing the entire mouth in one picture. While Cephalometric X-rays include the side of the head. A Cone-Beam Computed Tomography will use a cone-shaped x-ray that rotates around you while taking pictures in 3D. Finally, a Standard Computed Tomography can help your dentist ensure proper placement for implants. Since it has higher radiation exposure, they are usually done in a radiologist’s office.
  2. INTRAORAL RADIOGRAPHS: These are taken in your dentist office to find cavities and keep tabs on developing teeth. They include Bitewing X-rays to locate decay between molars and Periapical X-rays which help inspect the entire tooth from crown to root. Lastly, Occlusal X-rays show the dentist the whole arch of the tooth.


There is no set answer, because everyone’s oral health is different. A patient may have a medical or dental condition that may require x-rays twice a year. Others may only need them done every two years. Factors that affect when you need x-rays include:

  • Your history of gum disease or tooth decay.
  • Your age.
  • Any medical symptoms or oral disease symptoms.

Children get x-rays more often because dentists need to monitor the growth and positioning of their teeth. For example, a dentist can see from the x-ray if a baby tooth needs to be pulled because a permanent tooth is growing in. The radiograph will also show if wisdom teeth need to come out or if braces are needed.

If you haven’t been x-ray’d recently, or are a new patient, it’s likely your dentist will request a panoramic x-ray. This will allow him/her to assess the health of your mouth as well as give them a point of reference for moving forward.


The Canadian Dental Association has strict standards and regulatory requirements for dental x-rays. This includes the equipment and operators, ensuring everyone’s safety. Precautions are always taken and we encourage you to ask for additional protection such as a leaded collar to protect the thyroid.

There is one exception to these x-ray rules, pregnant women. Be sure to tell your dentist if you think you might be pregnant, radiation (even these mild amounts) is considered unsafe for fetuses.

Brushing twice a day and flossing every night is an important part of maintaining good oral health, just like occasional x-rays. They will always play an important role in our oral health, not just for strong, healthy teeth, but maintaining the gums and jaw as well.