When do you need dental X-rays? How much do X-rays cost?

High-energy electromagnetic radiation consists of X-rays. In medicine, these are used to visualize the bony structures inside the body.

Dentists and orthodontists take advantage of this technology to inspect what they can’t see when simply looking into your mouth. The X-rays pass through cheeks and lips and are absorbed by teeth and bones, which show up on the image.

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Are dental X-rays necessary?

X-rays are very commonly performed and very helpful. The images, or “radiographs”, that are produced show things like abscesses or decay between the teeth. They not only help to locate, target, and prevent the spread of diseases but also allow the dentist to perform the procedure safely.

Dr. Eric Moryoussef
Many types of radiographs are considered vital for proper diagnosis. They allow us to catch things like cavities early, before they become a bigger problem.

Some radiographs should be done regularly, others only in certain circumstances. One way or another, the cost of X-rays is an expense you should consider in your budget for a dental treatment. Read on to find out about the most popular ones at the dental office.

Intraoral X-rays

Intraoral means inside the mouth. That’s exactly where the film goes when these X-rays are taken. Intraoral radiographs are the most common and provide the most detail.

Bitewing X-ray

A bitewing is performed once a year, unless necessary before particular treatment. It is sometimes referred to as a “check-up X-ray”. That’s because it’s really quick and easy but also because it gives the dental professional a lot of information.

Tooth decay happening on the inside of your tooth can be easily diagnosed. Changes in bone thickness, signs of gum disease, and decay between the teeth will also show up on the image.

Dr. Jason Chong
Bitewings are recommended every other cleaning visit, or every twelve months to evaluate for caries and to identify subgingival calculus.

A bitewing captures a small section of the lower and upper teeth. If you aren’t focusing on a problem area, multiple can be taken for a general overview. Additional radiographs are usually less expensive than the first one. In some cases they may be taken at no additional charge.

The name stems from the shape of the device you put into your mouth. You bite down on a wing-shaped piece of film. The dentist or hygienist leaves the room for each snapshot and you might wear a protective bib.

Related procedures include dental exams, professional teeth cleaning, cavity filling, and cosmetic treatments.

Periapical X-ray

A periapical X-ray shows a small section of the mouth, it concentrates on one or two teeth. The entire tooth from the crown to the tip of the root (below the gums) will be visible. It is usually performed 1-2 times a year.

It may help diagnose issues you didn’t know you had such as impacted teeth, fractures, and abscesses. Most often it is taken when the patient experiences acute pain. This could be undiagnosed pain or pain that is suspected to be caused by failure of prior treatment.

The dental professional will leave the room. You might have to wear a protective bib, one covering your thyroid gland at least. The film will usually be mounted on a metal rod with a ring. You will have to bite down on the device. This will help it stay still.

You will probably need more than one picture. Additional radiographs are usually less expensive than the first.

Periapical X-rays are taken when you come in for teeth whitening, SRP, RCT, veneers, crown placement, and tooth extraction.


Sometimes the dental hygienist or dentist will decide that rather than taking individual periapical or bitewing X-rays, an FMX is needed.

FMX means a full-mouth series of X-rays. It includes a set of 16-18 images to observe the full set of teeth and the surrounding tissue. These usually include 4 bitewings and 12-14 periapicals.

Dr. Namrita Harchandani
An FMX is always helpful to get the bigger picture. I would perform it if a new patient hasn't had full mouth series of X-rays done in the last three to five years.

The radiographs will show the structure of your entire mouth as well as details of individual teeth. The jaw will be presented from both sides. This will give the dental professional a good idea of the general structure of your mouth.

The procedures will not differ from what has been described above. Some offices you require you to have an FMX if you are a new patient. For established patients, four bitewings and two periapicals (of the front teeth) are usually taken every six to twelve months.

Occlusal X-ray

This type of X-ray concentrates on tooth development. Each radiograph shows an entire arch, upper or lower. An occlusal X-ray is most commonly used to help detect the need for a cavity filling or before orthodontic work.

It is mainly done in children who are experiencing problems related to unusual tooth alignment. It also captures unerupted teeth, or teeth that are erupting in unexpected places. The image shows the roof or floor of the mouth.

Caries below the gumline, fractures in the jawbone, abscesses, and lodged foreign objects can be easily spotted.

Extraoral X-rays

For the following three types of X-rays, the film remains outside the mouth. These show the teeth as well as the surrounding structures such as the jaw and skull.

Panoramic X-ray

A panoramic X-ray is a very common procedure at the dental office. They provide a big-picture view that shows the relationship between the jaws and teeth, as well as the airways such as the nasal cavities and sinuses. This is a non-invasive test that is the way to go if you are unsure which tooth is hurting.

It requires a little preparation. You will have to remove your jewelry, glasses, and other metal objects. You will be given a lead apron to protect the rest of your body from radiation exposure.

You might have to stay standing for this X-ray. Your head and chin will be placed in a device that will help you remain motionless. This is vital, as any movement could distort the radiograph.

Even though the device will rotate around you, all teeth will be shown on a flat image. Both arches along with surrounding structures and tissues will be visible.

Peter Dégallier, dental therapist
A panoramic radiograph is very helpful for teenagers. It can assess tooth eruption and orientation, particularly of the wisdom teeth.

You will probably have it if you decide on a procedure that requires a comprehensive dental overview, such as implant placement. Many orthodontists also like to do a panoramic X-ray before performing any orthodontic work.

Other than before major procedures it can be done every 3-5 years.

Cephalometric projections

A “ceph”, as it is sometimes referred to, is usually taken before and after orthodontic treatment. This includes not only traditional braces but also aligners such as Invisalign, Smile Direct Club, or Candid Co.

This X-ray concentrates on the patient’s profile and helps predict the outcome of tooth movement. Exposure takes approximately ten seconds, and the image is developed in about five to six minutes. It will be two-dimensional.

The dental professional will use tracing paper to “trace the ceph”. The movement of the dentition and its growth patterns can be calculated.

Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT)

A cone-beam CT is often confused with a medical CT scan, though it produces a lot less radiation. It provides considerably more details than other types of dental X-ray, as the image produced is 3D.

It is used when other types turn out to be insufficient, before oral surgery, or invasive RCT. During the procedure, a beam in the shape of a cone will move slowly around your head. You will have to remain motionless for the shot to be clear.

Three radiographs are captured in a single scan. Those pictures, or “views”, are then combined to produce a three-dimensional image. The dentist will be able to assess space and internal structures in the mouth. The teeth, soft tissues, nerve pathways, and bone will all be visible.

The dentist will also be able to see which direction the roots grow in. This makes oral surgery less invasive; it is easy to see where the incisions have to be made.

Cone beam X-rays are the most detailed, accurate, and diagnostic form of radiograph. This type is particularly helpful with implant placement, wisdom tooth extraction and root canal treatment. Some complications, such as permanent nerve damage, can be more easily avoided if this X-ray is done.

Digital radiography

Digital radiography is a new technology that might one day replace traditional X-ray film. It’s not a type of radiograph but a different means of taking one. You can, for example, take a bitewing this way.

The advantages include the fact that images are processed immediately, so they can be viewed straight away. These images are editable; the technician can adjust contrast and deduce more information from the radiograph. There is no real difference in terms of price for the patient.

The biggest disadvantage is that some of the sensors are bigger and bulkier than traditional ones. This means it is less comfortable for the patient and that it can’t easily be disinfected. The device is covered in disposable plastic which is necessary for infection control.

Digital radiographs expose the patient to significantly less radiation than traditional film radiographs.

A closer look at the cost of dental X-rays

Dental X-rays cost from $25 up to $750. The type of dental X-ray you need, and, of course, how many, are what impacts the price most. A dental professional is the one who can accurately diagnose what kind is appropriate in your case.

The cost of intraoral and extraoral X-rays can be very different.

Intraoral X-rays typeAverage costCost range

And prices for extraoral X-rays:

Extraoral X-rays typeAverage costCost range
Cone-beam CT$350$150-$750

Extraoral X-rays are usually a bit more expensive. This is because they require equipment that costs a lot more. Moreover, small offices may not have the necessary tools, and you could be sent somewhere else.

If that is the case, you should be prepared for a higher fee. Dental offices do this to avoid an influx of patients who are just going to do small procedures instead of full treatment.

Are dental X-rays safe?

Generally, there is a lot of misconception around radiography. The radiation produced during an X-ray is very small, comparable to the amount you would experience during a sunny day. The exposure from four bitewings is comparable to a two-hour airplane ride.

ItemDose of radiation in Millisieverts (mSv)
Dental X-ray0.005
A flight from New York to Los Angeles0.04
Abdominal CT scan14

Resource: RDH Magazine

What’s more, the benefits of early detection of any issues outweigh the risk ofa minimal amount of radiation. There is also no reason to be worried about children getting X-rays. Radiography can be safely used in pediatric care.

The biggest contraindication to X-rays is pregnancy. Still, accommodation can be arranged if necessary. For example, if there is an emergency or a woman becomes pregnant during a long-term treatment she and the baby will be protected by a heavy-duty leaded apron and a thyroid collar.

Dental X-ray near me

Dental X-rays are routine procedures, something you should consider in your budget annually. This helps keep your mouth in check and makes other treatment possible.

Searching for the right office can take a lot of time and effort. But don’t worry. Authority Dental has prepared a huge database that makes research a lot easier and quicker. The dentists near me service will match you with a great specialist. We will consider your insurance plan and preferred form of payment.

This is all 100% free. Call any time to book an appointment. Click here to see our phone number.


Does insurance cover dental x-rays?

Insurance almost always covers preventative care. This means that routine bitewings or even FMX will likely be covered. There’s even a chance that you will be reimbursed with no deductible.

What’s more, radiographs are diagnostic in nature. Even if the treatment that requires one is not preventive, there’s a good chance that the policy provider will cover at least a portion of the costs of an X-ray.

You can also consider signing up for a dental plan. They have no yearly maximums, waiting periods, and absolutely no paperwork. In fact, they won’t need an X-ray to give you a discount on any procedure.

How often should you get dental X-rays?

You should get a bitewing twice a year. It is convenient to do this during your bi-annual check-ups. A periapical should be done when you’re a new patient to an office.

Other than that, X-rays are not routine procedures. They are rather done when something unexpected happens or if you are considering some kind of invasive treatment. Radiographs can also be great in diagnosing dental problems.

Are dental X-rays painful?

No. X-rays shine light onto parts of your body to produce an image, they do not touch you at all. You won’t feel any pain or discomfort while one is being taken.

Can you get a dental X-ray during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a contraindication to X-rays. They are not recommended unless absolutely necessary. In such cases protection in the form of a lead apron can be provided.

Do dental X-rays show infection?

Yes. In fact, they play a key role in detecting abscesses, pus-filled pockets that can cause huge oral issues. Such problems should be diagnosed as soon as possible. Abscesses can increase in size rapidly and bacteria can travel via the bloodstream.

Disclaimer: The total cost of dental X-rays depends on numerous factors. These include the location, the experience of the person performing the procedures, and the materials used. The costs vary from state to state, from office to office, and even from dentist to dentist working in the same office. These prices show the average expenses involved without insurance or dental plans. We did our best to compile and take into account values from many sources, but the final decision as to which procedures must be performed and how much to charge for them is always ultimately made by the dentist. We give no guarantee that the prices you find here are the prices your dentist will quote.