Your teeth are the only bones that you can see from the outside of the body (hopefully), and while that gives dentists a lot of insight into your overall oral health with ease, they’re not able to see everything on the surface level. Sometimes, they need to get beneath the surface to see how your oral health is looking.
Luckily, dentists don’t need to make any incisions just to address your wellness. X-rays make it easy for dental professionals to take a peek at what’s going on inside your teeth and gums to decide what steps need to be taken for your overall health.
X-rays are often the first thing needed before a surgery or complex dental procedure, but they are often fairly expensive. Here is everything you need to know about dental X-rays, as well as how much you can expect to pay with and without insurance.
Dental X-rays, also known as radiographs, are internal images of your teeth and jaw. Dentists use them to examine structures that you can’t see during a routine check-up, like your nerves, jawbone, tooth roots, and sinuses.
X-rays are electromagnetic captures of the inside of your body that work with radiation waves. X-ray waves travel through the body and then hit a detector on the other side of your mouth. The image is formed by the “shadows” formed by the objects inside of the body that inhibit the radiation waves from passing through with ease.
X-rays can be used to detect all sorts of things, like:
Before you get a dental x-ray taken, the dentist will place a lead apron over your chest. This helps protect you from excess radiation. You’ll then either sit or stand in front of an X-ray machine, and the technician will press a button to take each image.
In many cases, you might be asked to bite down on a piece of plastic to help position the jaw properly for clear imaging.
There are many different types of dental X-rays that each serve different purposes. They are divided into two categories: intraoral X-rays and extraoral X-rays.
Intraoral X-rays occur when the film or the sensor is placed inside your mouth. There are three different kinds:
These types of X-rays occur when the sensor is outside of the mouth. There are several types, with the most common being:
There’s a lot of concern surrounding the use of X-rays in medicine because it has long been said that radiation exposure from these machines is toxic to the human body. But the reality is that they are not dangerous.
While radiation is linked to causing cancer, the risk of getting it from an X-ray is extremely small. In fact, the chances of getting cancer from a single X-ray is 1 in 1,000,000. It’s the equivalent of regular sun exposure over the course of a single day.
The benefits of X-rays far outweigh the minor risks. They’re really the only way that your dentist can see your bones and tissue that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
The exception here is pregnancy. Women who may be pregnant should avoid dental X-rays because electromagnetic radiation in any form is not safe for a developing fetus. You should discuss other options with your dentist if this applies to you.
Regardless, it never hurts to get a proper evaluation for X-rays ahead of time. During your bi-yearly check-up, a dentist might order X-rays for you. They’ll only do this if they feel like you might be at risk for tooth decay or other abnormalities or if it’s been a while since you’ve had your last X-ray.
A dentist will usually give you an X-ray once a year or one time every two visits, provided that your teeth are mostly healthy. You might need to get more if you need to get surgery or another procedure completed on your teeth, jaw, or gums.
The cost of a dental X-ray varies depending on which type of X-ray you need to get in the first place. But in general, the average price of a dental X-ray is anywhere between $100 and $200.
Since it is considered a preventative technique that serves to protect you from more complex and expensive procedures like root canals or cavity treatment, most dental insurance plans will cover at least one routine X-ray per year. Many will also cover X-rays if another doctor prescribes them, though they are not likely to cover X-rays that you elect to receive yourself as an add-on.
Either way, X-rays are a necessary addition to your oral healthcare, and the cost of these techniques should not be a deterrent between you and the care you need. No insurance? That’s not a problem.
Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service that lets you save up to 50% on the cost of common dental treatments. You only pay for the services you receive, and our transparent pricing model shows you what you can expect to owe before you go.
There are no membership fees or hidden premiums like insurance, and becoming a member is entirely free. There’s no waiting period either, so you can gain access to our wide network of dentists right away.
Speaking of our dentists, they’re vetted against a set of rigorous criteria, like excellent patient reviews and accreditation from top dental programs. So you can have confidence that your X-rays will go off without a hitch from start to finish.
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You have the right to refuse any type of service you get at the dentist, including X-rays. Note that dentists can also deny service to you if you refuse to get them done. They are necessary for your safety, especially before you need to get invasive procedures that involve cutting the gum.
If you have concerns, be sure to talk with your doctor to see if there are any alternatives, as well as get a better sense of the pros and cons of getting X-rays.
Most dental X-rays used today are completely safe for children because they are now digital, using up to 90% less radiation than the traditional film X-rays of the past. Each X-ray only takes about 1/10 of a second, and it’s a completely painless process that your child will be able to finish before they even start.
You don’t need to do anything special before coming into your dentist’s office for a dental X-ray. The only thing to do is brush your teeth before your appointment, as this creates a more hygienic environment in your mouth for the specialist to work with.
You’ll probably get your X-ray done right away when you get to the office for your check-up before any cleanings or fluoride treatments. Some practices have a separate room for X-rays that your practitioner will take you to. Others have a machine inside of the office, and you won’t even need to leave your chair.
There is no recovery time after an X-ray because it is a completely painless procedure. Usually, images are ready almost immediately after the digital scans are taken. The hygienist can then go over these X-rays with you by showing you the images on a computer screen.
If the hygienist discovers any problems, they might consult the acting dentist at the practice for a second opinion. They can then prescribe you the next course of action through treatment or preventative measures to be taken at home. But if they don’t find any problems, they’ll continue with the cleaning and the rest of the exam as normal.
Dental X-rays use radiation to see the insides of your teeth, roots, jaw, and gums. They give dentists the ability to address problems that might be occurring beneath the visible surface, like cavities, infections, and more.
X-rays themselves are usually covered by insurance if they are recommended by a provider, but if you’re stuck paying out of pocket, they can run you upwards of $200. Flossy can save you up to 50% on the cost of dental care — without any insurance necessary.
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Dental X-Rays: Types, Uses & Safety | Cleveland Clinic
Step-by-Step Master's Guide to Dental X-rays | Unitek College
Dental Cone-beam Computed Tomography | FDA
Cephalometric radiography | University of Babylon