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How often should you get dental X-rays?

How often should you get dental X-rays? The short answer: if you’re a healthy adult with no symptoms or history of dental problems, every 24 to 36 months. The long answer: it depends.

So what does that mean for you? The frequency of x-rays depends on many factors, including:

  • How much dental work you’ve had in the past. The more work you’ve had done (fillings, crowns, braces), the greater the chance of decay beneath the dental work. Decay that’s hidden under dental work can only be seen on X-rays.
  • Your dental hygiene. If you don’t floss and brush regularly, you are at greater risk for cavities, including cavities that are only visible on X-rays. You are also at greater risk for gum disease, which can lead to bone loss, which can only be seen on X-rays.
  • If you have any symptoms of tooth decay or gum disease. If you have a swollen face, for example, you might have an abscess that is visible only on an X-ray. If you have a toothache, the dentist will need an X-ray to make a final diagnosis.
  • Your age. The risk of dental problems varies throughout your life, so your dentist will take your age into account when ordering X-rays.

Like all medical procedures, dental X-rays have benefits and risks. What are the benefits? Your dentist can use dental X-rays to identify problems such as hidden tooth decay, for example between teeth and underneath fillings and crowns. Dental X-rays also show the bone loss that can come from gum disease. The earlier a problem is identified, the less dental work will be required. Identifying problems early might even help save the tooth.

What are the risks? Any amount of radiation poses a potential risk. But bear in mind that people are exposed to radiation from many everyday sources. Four bitewing X-rays, which would be typical in a routine exam, give about the same amount of radiation as a day in the sun. A panoramic dental X-ray, which goes around your head, has about twice that amount.

The bottom line: if you have questions about the frequency of dental X-rays, talk to your dentist. Then make a decision based on your dentist’s recommendation—and your own comfort level.