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X-Ray Frequency Guidelines

Dentists use X-rays for many reasons. X-rays 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.

You may wonder why your dentist wants you to have a certain type of X-ray, or how often you should have X-rays taken. To learn more, check out the chart below. It's based on guidelines put out by the American Dental Association (ADA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The guidelines were 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. Learn more about X-ray safety.

Type of Person

Type of Visit

Children with only baby teeth

Children with baby teeth and permanent teeth

Adolescents with all permanent teeth but with unerupted wisdom teeth

Adults with at least one tooth

Adults with no teeth

First visit

Some patients may receive selected periapical and/or occlusal X-rays, plus bite-wing X-rays if the dentist cannot see between the back teeth

Bite-wing X-rays with either a panoramic X-ray or selected periapical X-rays

Bite-wing X-rays with either a panoramic X-ray or selected periapical X-rays, or a full-mouth intraoral X-ray exam

Bite-wing X-rays with either a panoramic X-ray or selected periapical X-rays, or a full-mouth intraoral X-ray exam

The type of X-ray depends on the individual

Return visit: No decay and no increased risk of decay

May receive bite-wing X-rays every 1-2 years

May receive bite-wing X-rays every 1-2 years

Bite-wing X-rays every 18-36 months

Bite-wing X-rays every 2-3 years

Does not apply

Return visit: With decay or increased risk of decay*

May receive bite-wing X-rays every 6-12 months

May receive bite-wing X-rays every 6-12 months

May receive bite-wing X-rays every 6-12 months

Bite-wing X-rays every 6-18 months

Does not apply

Return visit: With periodontal disease

Depends on the individual

Depends on the individual

Depends on the individual

Depends on the individual

Does not apply

Any visit, for monitoring growth and development

Depends on the individual

Depends on the individual

Usually will have X-rays taken to assess the wisdom teeth (third molars)

No, not usually

No, not usually

Who is at increased risk of decay? The following factors are just some things that increase risk:

  • Having tooth decay in the past
  • Having many fillings and/or crowns
  • High levels of cavity-causing S. mutans bacteria in the mouth
  • Poor brushing and flossing habits
  • Fillings or crowns that are old or defective
  • 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, either inherited or resulting from malnutrition while the tooth is forming
  • Developmental or other disability that prevents regular cleaning of the teeth.
  • Dry mouth(xerostomia)
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy involving the mouth or salivary glands
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Smoking
  • Lack of regular dental care

More About X-Rays

©2002-2013 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

8/6/12

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