What is the Cost of Dental X-rays?

According to the American Dental Association, the cost is the number one reason people won’t go to the dentist. And contrary to popular belief, the cost of a dentist’s services without insurance isn’t much different from your annual insurance bill.

Before you look at these numbers, it’s important to remember that modern dentistry has made significant advances to improve the treatment and prevention of dental diseases.

These improvements continue to cause the cost of dental treatment to surge each year. These rising costs make it challenging for those without dental insurance to see a dentist regularly to maintain optimal oral health. 

However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are plenty of ways you can have dental work done without having that dental insurance card. 

There are several factors when determining how much dental X-rays typically cost with or without insurance.

Getting routine dental X-rays is an important part of maintaining good oral health. Dental X-rays are considered a preventative service, and all Guardian Direct® dental plans* 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 your 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 two.

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, whereas a panoramic X-ray, which takes a full image of the teeth and surrounding jaw, can typically cost $60-$150 per image.

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 plaque. This may cause gum disease.

This matters because, as evidenced in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, there is a link between pregnant women with gum disease being 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 shielded. 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 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 liability.

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-rays.

Some of the most 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 your 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 preventative service. It helps to catch small issues before they become larger and more expensive than the cost of the original X-ray.
    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 to 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 imaging.

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 may use a lead apron or collar to protect your abdomen and thyroid area.

Even though both are considered safe by the American Dental Association, modern digital X-rays use 80% less radiation than the old film X-rays. 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 who 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 include:

  • Decay: tooth decay, especially below the gum line, 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 of the tooth and gums. X-rays allow your dentist to identify infections.
  • Some types of tumors—some tumors or cancer can be identified on X-ray.
  • 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 help 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 To Get Dental Work Done Without Insurance

Approximately 74 million Americans have no dental insurance and have to pay their dental costs out of pocket. And since most people think the cost of a dentist without insurance is beyond their reach, many people have been opting out of their bi-annual dentist visits.

Unfortunately, this can lead to more expensive treatment in the future. Luckily for you, there are several options that exist for those without dental coverage! 

Option 1: Dental Schools 

If you live near an accredited dental school, you can find quality treatment at a lower cost than private dental offices offer. These schools have clinics where dental students work under the supervision of licensed dentists. Typically, the experienced dentist checks every phase of the student’s work to ensure high-quality treatment.

Here’s the catch: you’ll probably need to see these dentist trainees more frequently. It also means more time spent in the dental chair for each visit.

On the website of the American Dental Association, you can find a list of accredited dental schools.

Option 2: Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP 

Medicare does not pay for most routine dental care, such as cleanings, fillings, dentures, and extractions. Medicare Part A covers some emergency dental treatment provided in a hospital. 

Every state must provide Medicaid dental benefits for children enrolled in their program. Some states also offer dental coverage for adults. When examined by a physician, children might receive an oral screening, but this does not replace the required exam by a dentist.

The minimum dental care provided to children under Medicaid includes:

  • Treatment that is necessary to relieve dental pain and infections
  • Restoration of broken and decayed teeth
  • Procedures that are essential to maintain the child’s oral health

The federal government partners with state governments to offer affordable health coverage for children who can’t qualify for Medicaid due to their family’s income. This program is called the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. It works closely with Medicaid to offer different benefits in each state. 

Option 3: Local Health Departments

Some local health departments provide free or low-cost dental services. 

Option 4: Ask About Payment Options 

Suppose you have no dental insurance and no access to any other assistance. In that case, you should find a dentist that has different payment options for their services. One popular payment method accepted by many dentists is CareCredit.

CareCredit provides no-interest financing options for 6–24 months on charges over $200. You can also take advantage of longer-term financing at reduced interest rates for more expensive dental fees. 

How Much is a Dentist Visit Without Insurance?

The cost of a dentist’s visit without insurance depends on the service you need. Routine cleaning can cost $75-$200, with an average cost of $127. When this appointment includes dental x-rays, the price can reach $300 or more.

If you need a more extensive cleaning (known as a deep cleaning), expect to pay $500-$4,000 for your entire mouth. Even with dental insurance, you will likely pay several hundred dollars for this procedure. This highlights the importance of preventing gum disease rather than treating it.

Sometimes the cost of a dentist without insurance is more affordable than the monthly insurance premiums. This is especially true if all you need each year is basic services such as exams and cleanings.

Even if you do have insurance, you could end up purchasing insurance with a limited provider network. This makes finding a dentist more difficult. Some dental plans have a low annual maximum, which makes paying their monthly premium unappealing.

Here is a list of national prices for standard dental procedures that can help you make your decision:

1. Teeth Cleaning

Insurance usually pays all the fees for cleanings twice each year. On average, a standard cleaning from a dental hygienist should cost about $127. 

2. Composite Tooth Filling

The cost of a filling depends on the size of the cavity and the material used for the filling. Composite, or tooth-colored fillings, can cost $90-$250 to restore one surface and $150-$450 to restore three or more surfaces.

Dental insurance usually pays 50–80% of the fee, and the average cost without insurance is $204.

3. Wisdom Tooth Removal

Having all your wisdom teeth removed at the same time is cost-effective. Without a discount for removing all four, expect to pay around $416 per tooth if you have insurance and $250-$750 without insurance.

4. Endodontic Treatment (Root Canal)

The cost of root canal treatment can vary considerably depending on the experience of the dentist. Good dental insurance may help pay approximately 50% of the fee, ranging from $1000-$2000.

5. Dental Crown

The materials used to make your crown determine the cost. Patients with dental insurance can pay $530-$1,875 out of pocket for an all-porcelain crown. If you don’t have dental coverage, you can pay $800-$3,000 for this procedure.

Steps On How To Go To The Dentist Without Insurance

Finding a good dentist who can provide high-quality dental care helps you maintain healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime. If you don’t have a dentist and don’t have dental insurance, here are the steps to take:

  1. Compose a list of good dentists. Ask friends, family, and other healthcare providers for the names of their dentists.
  2. Call these dental offices and ask for their out-of-pocket prices for routine check-ups and cleanings. If you know of any specific dental treatments you need, ask for those prices.
  3. If you live near a dental school and don’t mind the extra time this option requires, get their prices.
  4. Evaluate the costs of each dentist considering your budget. 
  5. Choose the best dentist that you can afford. Make sure that the cost of getting an exam and cleaning twice each year fits into your budget. This is critical for your oral health, and it also helps prevent expensive dental problems from developing between dental visits.

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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