X-ray films are important to take and review periodically. There are three main types of films that we take in our office.  Each has a particular purpose and schedule designed to reveal cavities and infections that cannot be seen during a routine exam alone. 

A panoramic x-ray should be taken once every 5 years.  This film offers a great overall view that is referred to often over the years.  It also allows the dentist to see if there are any infections, or other abnormalities present deep in the jaw or sinus areas (where no other films can reach).  While being very useful, they are not capable of diagnosing smaller cavities. That job is largely left to the two remaining films.

Bitewing x-rays are utilized once a year and offer a clear view of decay that may be present between teeth (where people should be flossing).  This is a common area where cavities often form.  Without this film, decay that is lurking under the surface will go undiagnosed, leading to larger cavities, root canals, and tooth loss.  In our office, we often see each of these unfortunate possibilities take place, when they could have easily been avoided, had scheduled bitewing x-rays taken place.

Unlike bitewings, a periapical film (PA) is generally not a regularly taken x-ray, but instead is used when a patient has an issue or pain associated with a specific tooth.  It has the advantage of seeing at the tip of the root (where, if an infection or abscess would be visible if present), which is a view that bitewings do not haveA PA is essentially a closeup of that one tooth (along with its adjacent neighboring teeth).

For those that are concerned about radiation levels in dentistry, the truth is that they are extremely low.  Radiation exposure is measured in mSv (milliSeiverts), and the amount that the average person absorbs per day just by existing in their environment is .008 mSv.  Traveling on an airplane from Cincinnati to New York, or spending a few hours at a beach, will result in an identical exposure of .008 mSv.  This also happens to be the exposure level for one intra-oral dental film (bitewings or PA) or one panorex film.  For comparison, a hospital CT of an abdomen is 10 mSv, the equivalent of 3 years of exposure via natural living. The presence of radiation in dental films is, therefore, a poor excuse for avoiding them.