There are two broad types of films. One–general survey film, such as a panorex. The purpose of the panorex is is a broad overview of the jaw, and to some degree the TMJ. It enables the dentist to see the apex of all the teeth for possible infection. Also, other cystic and pathology lesions can be seen. This film should be taken every five years but is not normally used to see decay unless there is a significant amount. Two–bitewings are taken once a year and are primarily used to diagnose decay between the teeth which cannot be seen clinically. Something I always told patients: “without the bitewings, I cannot see 40% of your teeth.”
I see many patients which are penny pinchers and dollar foolish over x-rays. The concern is always money and/or radiation exposure. With the advent of digital films the exposure is very minimum and not an issue.
Finally, the films that are taken at your dentist are yours. If you decide to move or change dentists, your dentist should send a copy to you and/or your new dentists. Sometimes there is a minimum charge, but most times there is not.
Remember…films are a valuable diagnostic tool and will save you from trouble if the future. It’s an easy to correct a problem if caught early!