Cost For Dental X-Ray With And Without Insurance?

© 2023 Teeth Talk Girl

Dental radiographs—aka X-rays—are an important tool your dental team uses for diagnosis and treatment planning. Without them, your dentist can’t see around or between teeth in spaces that aren’t visible during the visual exam. But your dental X-ray cost may add a chunk to your dental bill at the end of the day, especially if you don’t have insurance. How much do dental X-rays cost, and is it worth paying for the different types that are available?

Why Do I Need Dental X-Rays?

Are dental x-rays safe? The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that dental x-rays be taken when necessary, based on the individual needs of the patient. Dental X-rays are extremely safe and without dental X-rays, your dentist cannot see conditions like:[1]

X-rays provide an extra level of diagnostics when it comes to evaluating the full tooth anatomy and all of the anatomy around your teeth. X-rays are 100% necessary to keep healthy teeth and discover any potential problems.

Patients of all ages need different types of X-rays at different phases of their life. Some are for establishing baseline readings of your oral health at a new patient exam, monitoring oral changes over time, or in the case of emergency toothaches.[2]

One of the most common reasons why people decline to have X-rays taken is because of concerns related to radiation, as well as how much the dental X-ray costs.

Dental X-Ray Cost Factors 

What factors influence how much a dental X-ray will cost? Usually, things like:

 1. The type of X-ray you’re getting.

Small single-tooth X-rays may cost as little as $20-35 (these films are usually taken for emergency purposes or to evaluate a specific tooth.) On the other hand, full-mouth X-ray series don’t cost that much per tooth but can still be around $100-$200 or more. Many practices are now offering 3D CBCT images with treatments like dental implants, oral surgery, or a comprehensive exam, and such cone-beam CT imaging may be the same fee as a panoramic, or up to $600-$700 in certain cases.

 2. How frequently the X-rays are taken?

While circumstances are different for everyone, most people have some type of a full-mouth X-ray series taken at new patient appointments and every 3-5 years. If you need one more frequently, you will usually have to pay out of pocket because your insurance probably won’t approve it. So, if you’re hopping around from one dentist’s office to the next, you might run into paying for more X-rays than you normally would.

3. Your treatment plan needs.

Keep in mind that the cost of dental X-rays is usually lumped into your treatment plan. For example, an emergency exam will usually require a periapical X-ray, but the film is at an added price on top of your exam fee. If you’re seeing an orthodontist for a consultation, they may bill your insurance for the cost of a panoramic X-ray or offer it free of charge by rolling the cost into your total braces cost.

4. Where you live.

The cost of living has a significant impact on dental fees, including the cost of X-rays. If one area has a much lower cost of living than another, the dental fees in that region will usually be lower as well. Overhead costs, staff salaries, supplies, rent, and a number of factors will influence the exact fee for certain types of X-rays.

Do Dental Insurance Plans Cover Dental X-Rays?

Most types of dental X-rays are almost always covered by your dental insurance, depending on your plan, when they’re taken, and the age of the patient. For example, panoramic X-rays are usually taken during various stages of oral development, but the typical insurance plan will only cover them about once every 3-5 years. The same can be said for full mouth “FMX” X-rays. On the other hand, bitewing X-rays are almost always covered at least once a year because they’re needed to pinpoint cavities between teeth while the decay is as small as possible.

If you do not have dental insurance, you might find that the dentist offers some type of new patient special or includes a free X-ray with emergency exams. Dental X-ray costs will usually vary from office to office, but regional prices tend to be about the same, as they’re based on “usual” or “customary” fees set by dental insurance companies.

When dentists take certain X-rays within a shorter time span than your insurance company covers (i.e., every 6 months instead of every 12, or 3 years instead of 5), you can usually expect your insurance carrier to reject the claim, leaving you responsible for the dental X-ray cost.

Cost of Dental X-rays

Not all dental X-rays cost the same because each type of radiograph is different. Depending on the type, the equipment needed to take the picture, and how many X-rays your dentist is taking, the fee can vary tremendously.[3]

Type of Dental X-rayAverage CostCost with Insurance Cost with Dental Plan
Panoramic Dental X-ray (aka “Pano”)$50 to $250$0 to $125$20 to $72
Bitewing X-ray$50 to $100$0 to $50$32 to $41
Periapical X-ray (“PA”)$20 to $75$0 to $50$12 to $42
Full Mouth Series (FMX)$50 to $300$0 to $150$20 to $82
Occlusal X-ray$50 to $200$0 to $100$20 to $70
Cephalometric X-ray$75 to $300$0 to $150$20 to $70
CBCT Cat-Scan$100 to $1,000$0 to $500n/a

Keep in mind that these are just rough estimates and the actual cost of dental x-rays may vary depending on the location of the dental office, the complexity of the x-ray, and other factors. It is best to check with the dental office and your insurance provider to get a more accurate estimate of the cost of dental x-rays.

Type of Dental X-rays

Most dentists use digital x-rays, which are electronic images captured and displayed on a computer screen. Digital x-rays have several advantages over traditional film x-rays like less radiation exposure, quicker results, enhanced images, and cheaper.[4]

Your dentist will order specific dental imaging for certain types of diagnostic needs. It is extremely rare for one type of X-ray to be used for a different purpose because each one is for its own unique circumstances. Here are the most common types of X-rays that dentists order:

Panoramic Dental X-ray (aka “Pano”)

Average Price: $150

Full-mouth panoramic films show a two-dimensional view of your entire upper and lower jaw and all of the teeth. Panoramic dental x-rays are useful for checking wisdom teeth, orthodontic exams, screening for cysts, and sometimes dental implant planning. The average fee is around $150, give or take. Insurance normally covers one every 3-5 years. 

Bitewing X-ray

Average Price: $70

Bitewing x-rays are usually taken in a set of 2 or 4 films, bitewings show the spaces between your back teeth to check for cavities in those spaces. Bitewings usually cost about $50-$100, and insurance usually allows them one or two times a year.

Periapical X-ray (“PA”)

Average Price: $50

Periapical x-rays cost somewhere around $20-75 is a “PA” X-ray, which shows the entire tooth root and the area around it. Periapicals are needed for root canal treatments and checking for abscessed or broken teeth.

Full Mouth Series (FMX)

Average Price: $175

A combination of PA and bitewing X-rays is used for baseline exams and intermittent comprehensive evaluations of the entire mouth every 3-5 years. Full mouth series usually cost around $100-300, or close to the price of a pano. Your insurance will usually only cover one or the other, not both at the same time.

Occlusal X-ray

Average Price: $40

Instead of taking a PA on small children, occlusal films show the top front or bottom front teeth as they’re erupting. The average cost is about $20-40.

Cephalometric X-ray

Average Price: $150

Usually taken by orthodontists, “cephs” show a side view of your face, teeth, and jaws. They cost about the same amount as a pano. This type of x-ray is common with orthodontic treatment.

CBCT Cat-Scan

Average Price: $350

Dental professionals use this 3D scan of your oral anatomy, but it can also be used instead of a panoramic X-ray for planning oral surgeries and implant placement.

Risks Of Not Getting X-rays?

Without dental X-rays, it’s physically impossible to see everything that’s going on inside your mouth. Undiagnosed periodontal disease and bone loss or tooth decay between teeth will go undetected, allowing the condition to worsen without early intervention. Neither of these conditions can be self-diagnosed until they’ve reached extensive stages of oral disease. At that point, you run the risk of major (and expensive) dental work, more aggressive treatment needs like root canals and crowns (instead of small fillings), or total tooth loss. 

The small investment in routine dental X-rays is important for protecting your smile’s health because it helps you and your dental team stay ahead of issues before they ever have a chance to progress into something serious. Even if they wanted to, your dentist can’t check for certain types of dental problems because they are virtually out of eyesight during your exams. A small, affordable filling could quickly progress into endodontic therapy with a crown, requiring hundreds of more dollars and additional trips to the dentist's office to save your tooth. It’s something that you can’t put a price tag on.[5]

The Cheapest Way To Afford Dental Care and X-rays

If you’re on a super tight budget without dental insurance and you’re worried about how you’re going to afford dental X-ray costs, here are a few tips to help lower how much money you’re spending on diagnostic care:

1. Visit a Dental School or Dental Hygiene School

Dental and dental hygiene schools provide low-cost services and dental X-rays to all patients. Sometimes, the X-rays are even free (depending on the school.) Patients from the community will pay a fraction of the cost for their X-rays compared to the fee at a private dental practice.

 2. Ask About Payment Plans

Affording full-mouth diagnostic X-rays like a CBCT scan may be essential if you’re undergoing full-mouth rehabilitation or oral surgery. If your scan isn’t included in the cost of your wisdom tooth removal or dental implants, you may want to go ahead and lump it into a payment plan with your necessary treatments. Depending on how quickly you pay off the balance, you may be able to enjoy completely interest-free payments for up to a year or more.

3. Join a Dental Membership Plan

Membership plans are like a dental insurance equivalent, available directly through participating dentists’ offices. In most cases, members get a certain number of “free” (price included in membership) diagnostic X-rays every year, preventing you from spending extra money out of pocket. Discount dental plans are similar, so be sure to talk to your dental office directly to see if either one is offered and which one they recommend.

4. Get a Dental Savings Plan

A dental savings plan is a type of dental insurance alternative that allows individuals and families to receive discounted dental care from participating providers. With dental savings plans, you can save up to 60% on the prices of dental x-rays. With dental savings plans, there are no annual caps on benefits, so you can have as many x-rays as you need without worrying about reaching a limit.

Don't let high dental costs keep you from getting the care you need. Joining a dental savings plan will save you on all your dental expenses. With discounted rates on a wide range of procedures, no annual caps, and no deductibles, a dental savings plan is an affordable way to keep your smile healthy. Join the best dental savings plan and start saving on your dental care!

What To Expect From X-rays

Most of the dental X-rays that are taken today are completely digital. While there are still some older practices that may use conventional dip processing techniques, you can usually expect your X-rays to be electronic. That means you and the dental staff can see the images immediately, right after they take them. More comprehensive images like 3D CBCT scans could take a few minutes for the software to process, but it’s hardly any time at all. The quicker imaging is extremely beneficial because it saves you time, is better for the environment (no harmful chemical processing liquids are required,) and it uses far less radiation than traditional X-rays. When you’re in pain or short on time, digital radiographs provide quick answers for you and your dentist.

Panoramic, cephalometric, and CBCT images are taken outside your mouth. Periapicals, bitewings, occlusals, and full mouth X-ray series use small sensors that go inside your mouth to record the image. Even if it feels a little weird to bite down on the sensor, you only have to do it for a few seconds, and it’s over with just as quickly.

Do X-rays Hurt?

Getting a dental X-ray taken doesn’t hurt one bit. But full disclosure, some people do have smaller mouths or sensitive gag reflexes, which can make the imaging process a little uncomfortable for certain angles of films. If you’re taking a panoramic or CBCT X-ray, the unit goes around your head, so there are zero discomforts. On the other hand, a periapical on one of your lower teeth is usually one of the more uncomfortable ones to take (some people say it feels like it’s “cutting” their mouth, even though it actually isn’t.) Or, if you’re experiencing a dental emergency, it might hurt to bite down on the X-ray unit because the nerve of the tooth is hyperactive at that time. But any great dental team will have tricks up their sleeve to make the process as comfortable and easy as possible.

Dental X-rays Are Worth The Price!

Covering the cost of dental X-rays may not seem worth it if you’re not in pain or have no complaints about your smile, but not getting X-rays is like having your dentist perform an exam without even opening your mouth. The X-rays provide a full-mouth assessment for important baseline readings, evaluations, and monitoring of conditions you can’t see from outside your gum tissues or visible tooth surfaces. When you compare a dental X-ray cost to the “cost” of undiagnosed dental disease, opting not to get X-rays could wind up costing you a whole lot more in the grand scheme of things. Especially since dental conditions are best treated and more affordable to manage the earlier they’re diagnosed.

If you have concerns about the cost of dental X-rays, remember that they’re an investment in your smile’s health. Be sure to ask your dental hygienist or dentist about private membership plans or understand what your insurance covers to keep dental X-ray costs to a minimum if not zero dollars altogether.

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