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Tooth Decay? We see right through you!

The true facts about dental x-rays.

Time to update your x-rays? Let’s take a deep dive into why you need them, what they are and how they help our dentists provide you with the standard of care that you deserve.

Let’s set the scene…

While we enjoy getting to see you and your family’s smiles every six months, we also know that coming to the dentist is not everyone’s idea of a fun Wednesday morning. You pile everyone into the car and begin your journey to our office, where you are greeted with a smile and a staff member that knows your family by name and has you all checked in within seconds of walking through the door. Soon enough, a hygienist comes over, warmly introduces themselves, and guides you back to the operatory where you will be having your routine cleaning and exam. The hygienist reviews your medical history, checks your blood pressure, and lets you know that before you get started, you are due to update your bitewing x-rays. She drapes you with the oh-so cozy lead covering, and quickly snaps your images. They pop up on the screen next to you, and your cleaning begins.

Comprehensive dental treatment. Every time.

Dental x-rays are a crucial part of comprehensive dental care. They allow your dental team to see the complete picture. Our dentists, dental assistants, and hygienists work in harmony each time you are brought back into the chair to ensure that you are provided with nothing but the best.

A combination of oral examination, tests, and x-rays allow a thorough treatment plan to be curated for each individual patient. X-rays have probably just been something that you have almost come to expect as part of your visits with us, but why do we take them, and what are the different x-rays good for?

We were able to sit down with Pax’s lead hygienist, Heather, to ask all of your burning questions.

So, Heather… What’s up with all these x-rays?

You know that you get x-rays at dental visits, but what exactly is a bitewing anyway? A bitewing is the most common dental x-ray taken at routine appointments. The image itself is of the posterior teeth (both upper and lower), usually just consisting of a set of 4 images, but can be up to 8. Heather explained that our dentists use this view to identify decay in-between the teeth, bone height and determine your periodontal status. They are usually updated once every twelve months.

You may also be used to hearing that you are in need to update your “Full mouth” x-ray, but that does not seem to be nearly as often. Your full mouth x-rays are updated every 3-5 years, depending on insurance allowance and your caries risk (how likely you are to develop tooth decay). Our dentists utilize two different full mouth views, panoramic images and full mouth series.

Heather described a panoramic image as having the ability to obtain key details of the jaw, such as cysts/other abnormalities, as well as allowing our dentists to see unerupted teeth, and monitoring your wisdom teeth. The second type of image is a full mouth series. This is a total of 18-20 x-rays, that consists of four bitewings and a periapical image of each tooth, so it is quite the mouth-full! They are certainly taken for good reason, though. Heather explained that this special set of images allows the dental team to see the complete tooth (root to crown) in a detailed view, making it possible to identify periapical (tooth root) infection. You certainly want your dentist to know about that, trust us!

What about the Radiation?

A common misconception when it comes to dental x-rays is that they expose you, the patient, to massive amounts of radiation. To understand how much radiation you are exposed to when getting dental x-rays taken, we first need to understand how much radiation we are being exposed to yearly through background radiation. The average radiation exposure per year for an American is 3 mSv (mSv is the unit in which “body radiation dose” is measured). This number is from simply existing in the world and going about your everyday life.

According to, a panoramic dental x-ray measures at .025 mSv which is equivalent to roughly 3 days of the average American going about their normal life. Also, when it comes to x-rays, we have you covered- literally! Every time an x-ray is taken, our team will make sure you are decked out in a stylish lead-apron. The National Institutes of Health stress that, “Appropriate shielding is the most important factor in protecting individuals from radiation exposure,” (Pain, 2018).

Will my insurance cover all this?

Now you may have questions about insurance coverage and out of pocket costs in regards to these routine x-rays, and we get it. Insurance can be tough! Our best advice would be to call your insurance provider to get your plan-specific coverage. You also

may be a self-pay patient concerned with the cost of routine x-rays. We have the perfect solution for you and your family with our Membership Plan. As always, our Patient Care Coordinators are happy to help you navigate signing up or any questions you may have regarding the program.

Ready, Set, Schedule.

Really, we can't wait to meet you! Not sure what you need? Come in for a check-up or for a teeth cleaning. We can take it from there and evaluate what might be the next step in your dental care. You can schedule by phone (301-863-8822) or by our online portal. See you soon!

Blog by: Emma Raphael, Marketing and Communcations Intern

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