Getting dental X-rays taken is a critical component to maintaining healthy teeth, mouth, gums, and jaw. X-rays allow your dentist to diagnose potential issues early on so that they can get taken care of right away. They also allow your dentist to follow up after a procedure as well, to ensure that their work was done correctly.
Modern X-rays are quick and, typically, non-intrusive, and with dental insurance you may have up to 100% of the cost covered each year for routine X-rays. With panoramic X-rays your dentist can take an image of your entire mouth and jaw in just 12-20 seconds, without any painful or uncomfortable equipment in your mouth¹.
Getting routine dental X-rays is an important part of maintaining good oral health. X-rays are considered a preventative service and Guardian Direct® dental plans* all cover a portion of dental X-rays. The amount of X-ray coverage depends on the level of plan that you purchase, the mid-tier plan covers up to 80% of annual X-ray costs, while the entry-tier and top-tier plans cover up to 100% of your annual X-ray, subject to annual maximums and other exclusions.
It is a good idea to sit down with you dentist and discuss how often you should get X-rays because there is no one size fits all approach to dental imaging. Some patients, particularly those with frequent tooth decay issues, may need an X-ray every 6 months, while patients with good oral health may only need one per year or two².
Without insurance the cost of X-rays can add up. A bitewing X-ray, which shows all of the back teeth, typically costs $20-$100 per set, where as a panoramic X-ray, which takes a full image of the teeth and surrounding jaw, can typically cost $60-$150 per image³. Without insurance these costs can add up, especially if you are in need of dental work that requires further X-rays.
Is it safe to have dental X-rays while pregnant?
If you are pregnant it is important that you still go in to see your dentist for your regular cleaning. Some women elect to skip the dentist during pregnancy; however, this may be a mistake and you should consult with your OBGYN or primary doctor. When you are pregnant, your gums can swell due to an increase in hormones, causing food to become trapped more easily and increasing the buildup of plaque⁴. This may cause gum disease. This matters because as evidenced in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, there is a link that pregnant women with gum disease were more likely to have a child born prematurely⁵.
Getting a routine X-ray when you go in for your regular cleaning is considered safe when you are properly shielded⁶. The dose of radiation that you are exposed to during a dental X-ray is not large enough to have an impact on a developing fetus. Also, having the X-rays occur in your mouth means that little to no radiation directly impacts your baby. However, if you are still concerned, it is always an option to get a cleaning but skip the yearly X-ray or wait and schedule it for after the baby is born.
Can I refuse dental X-rays?
As with any medical procedure, you always have the right to refuse a service or treatment. However, when you refuse dental X-rays your dental provider may not be able to perform basic procedures due to concerns around liability⁷. With this in mind, many dentists will simply refuse to do any dental work on you without X-rays. Even if you sign a waiver your dentist is still not able to move forward with dental procedures because they could still be liable for being knowingly negligent. It is also possible that your dentist may drop you from their practice if you continually refuse X-rays⁸.
Some of the common reasons why you might want to refuse X-rays are:
Comfort —this is especially true for people with a strong gag reflex or who have had a bad X-ray experience in the past. However, with modern technology, taking an X-ray today is much more comfortable than in the past. If you are worried about comfort, tell you dentist and they may be able to work with you to take fewer images or shorten the time that you are uncomfortable.
Cost —many people are worried about the cost of dental X-rays. With insurance, dental X-rays are typically covered, at least in part. It is also important to understand that the X-ray is a preventative service, it helps to catch small issues before they become larger and more expensive than the cost of the original X-ray.
Exposure to radiation —some folks are concerned about the level of radiation that they are exposed to with a dental X-ray. Dental X-ray technologies have advanced over time and are considered safe due to the low dose of radiation required take the image.
Are dental X-rays dangerous?
Dental X-rays are considered safe by the American Dental Association and there are regulations in place that all dentists must follow to be certified to perform X-ray imaging⁹. All X-rays require exposure to radiation, although the amount is minimal and has not been shown to cause health issues. For patients who are pregnant or who have thyroid issues, your dentist my use a lead apron or collar to protect your abdomen and thyroid area.
Modern digital X-rays use 80% less radiation than old film X-rays, even though both are considered safe by the American Dental Association¹⁰. Digital X-rays have completely changed how dentists are able to use X-rays. With digital X-rays, dentists can have their imaging done instantaneously and have it sent as a digital file. Before digital X-rays all imaging was done with X-ray film. There are some dentists still use film-based X-rays, although the vast majority have abandoned this in favor of digital imaging.
One of the benefits of using X-rays is that your dentist can detect potential issues early on, before they become larger, more painful, and typically more expensive. Some of the issues that dental X-rays can expose include¹¹:
Decay —tooth decay, especially below the gumline can be detected early on by an X-ray.
Bone loss —your jaw plays a critical role in your oral health, the only way to detect bone loss early on is through an X-ray.
Abscesses —an abscess is an infection that of the tooth and gum. X-rays allow your dentist to identify infections.
Some types of tumors —some tumors or cancer can be identified on X-ray.
Tooth positioning —no two mouths are the same, with an X-ray your dentist can identify any abnormalities in the position of your teeth or their roots.
Being able to assess and treat each of these issues as they are discovered means that you may typically pay less for the treatment than you would if the issue was treated later. Utilizing dental X-rays also has the added benefit of allowing you to plan out future procedures. Your dentist will notice trends in your teeth, from X-ray to X-ray, that helps them determine potential future movement or issues, this is especially true with regards to wisdom teeth. This means that you can plan for expensive procedures and services like extractions or braces before they need to be taken care of.
How often should I get dental X-rays & Insights
How often you need dental X-rays depends on several factors, however, for a person with good oral health, you can expect to need X-rays every year or two. You also will typically need X-rays before any dental procedure and possibly after as well, depending on the type of work that has been done.
Having dental insurance is a good way to ensure that you have affordable access to annual X-rays. Before purchasing an insurance plan, it can be helpful to do some research so that you understand how insurance and your benefits work. Guardian Direct has a library of resources available, at no cost to you, so that you can educate yourself on the ins-and-outs of dental insurance. This research can help ensure that you make the best informed decision when choosing dental insurance. for you and your family.
This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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