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How Often Should You Get Dental X-Rays?

Dentists use X-rays for many reasons. They can help diagnose tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontal disease. They allow the dentist to see the sizes and positions of teeth that haven't come in yet. X-rays also can show problems with fillings or crowns. They can help your dentist plan for braces, dentures, implants or other kinds of dental treatment.

How often should X-rays be done? The answer depends on your medical and dental history and the current condition of your mouth. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months. People who visit the dentist regularly and have excellent oral health may need X-rays only every three years or so.

Who needs more frequent or regular X-rays?

  • Children and teenagers — Children and teens who have a history of many cavities may need X-rays every six months or every year, depending on age. So may those who have a high risk of decay for other reasons. X-rays also help to keep track of tooth development.
  • Adults with many fillings, crowns, bridges or other restorations — X-rays help the dentist find decay beneath your fillings and crowns or in new places.
  • People with periodontal (gum) disease — X-rays can reveal signs of bone loss. If this has happened, then you may need periodontal surgery.
  • People with dry mouth, also called xerostomia — Saliva helps keep your mouth and teeth healthy by regulating the acid levels (pH) in the mouth. In a dry mouth, the pH decreases. This causes the minerals in the teeth to break down, resulting in more cavities. Many medicines can cause dry mouth. It also can be a result of cancer treatment or a long-term disease.
  • Smokers — Smoking increases the risk of bone loss around the teeth and periodontal disease.
  • Users of chewing tobacco — Chewing tobacco is sweetened with sugars and can lead to more cavities.

X-Ray frequency guidelines

To see how often you or your family members might need X-rays, check out the chart below. It is based on information from the American Dental Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This chart is based on guidelines developed in 2004. Your dentist may depart from them after assessing your overall risk of cavities, periodontal (gum) disease or other dental problems.

The ADA supports the ALARA (As Low as Reasonably Achievable) principle for taking X-rays. The purpose is to limit the patient's radiation exposure.

Type of visitChildren with only baby teethChildren with baby teeth and permanent teethTeens with all permanent teeth but with wisdom teeth still not erupted into the mouthAdults with at least one toothAdults with no teeth
First visitSome patients may receive selected periapical and/or occlusal X-rays, plus bite-wing X-rays if the dentist cannot see between the back teethBite-wing X-rays with either a panoramic X-ray or selected periapical X-raysBite-wing X-rays with either a panoramic X-ray or selected periapical X-rays, or a full-mouth intraoral X-ray examBite-wing X-rays with either a panoramic X-ray or selected periapical X-rays, or a full-mouth intraoral X-ray examThe type of X-ray depends on the individual
Return visit: No decay and no increased risk of decayMay receive bite-wing X-rays every 1-2 yearsMay receive bite-wing X-rays every 1-2 yearsBite-wing X-rays every 18-36 monthsBite-wing X-rays every 2-3 yearsDoes not apply
Return visit: With decay or increased risk of decay*May receive bite-wing X-rays every 6-12 monthsMay receive bite-wing X-rays every 6-12 monthsMay receive bite-wing X-rays every 6-12 monthsBite-wing X-rays every 6-18 monthsDoes not apply
Return visit: With periodontal diseaseDepends on the individualDepends on the individualDepends on the individualDepends on the individualDoes not apply
Any visit, for monitoring growth and developmentDepends on the individualDepends on the individualUsually will have X-rays taken to assess the wisdom teeth (third molars)No, not usuallyNo, not usually

Who is at increased risk of decay? Here are some other factors that increase risk:

  • High levels of cavity-causing S. mutans bacteria in the mouth
  • Poor brushing and flossing habits
  • Not drinking fluoridated water
  • Not using fluoridated toothpaste
  • Prolonged nursing (bottle or breast)
  • High sugar or starch content in the diet
  • Frequent drinking of sodas with added sugars
  • Family history of poor dental health
  • Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, holding food in cheeks (pouching)
  • Enamel defects in the teeth
  • Disability that prevents regular cleaning of the teeth.
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy involving the mouth or salivary glands
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Lack of regular dental care



Last updated August 6, 2012