How Panorex X-Rays Are Used in Dentistry

A panorex X-ray is a two-dimensional X-ray used in the dental field. It displays both jaws, the upper and lower, as well as the teeth, on the same film at the same time.

A dentist viewing an x-ray on a computer screen
David Sacks / The Image Bank / Getty Images


Panorex films have several uses. They are used regularly for orthodontic assessments, diagnosis of wisdom teeth impaction, diagnosis of advanced periodontal disease, assessment of the jaw joint, as well as for detecting signs of oral cancer.

Panorex films are used regularly for:

  • Diagnosis of advanced periodontal disease
  • Assess the TMJ, or jaw joint
  • Detecting oral cancer
  • Orthodontic assessments: To demonstrates the number, position, and growth of all the teeth including those that have not yet surfaced or erupted. It is different from the small close up X-rays dentists take of individual teeth. It may also reveal problems with the jawbone and the joint which connects the jawbone to the head called the Temporomandibular joint or TMJ. It may be requested for the planning of orthodontic treatment, for assessment of wisdom teeth or for a general overview of the teeth and the bone which supports the teeth.
  • Diagnosis of wisdom teeth impaction: Generally your dentist will first refer you to a trusted X-ray facility in order to gain full mouth X-rays which will help give visibility to your current condition. Even if you have had these done before, they may ask you to have new X-rays to be taken as over time the position of teeth within the jaw can change as you age.

Your dentist may also refer you to have 3D X-rays taken with newer X-ray machines.


During the panorex X-ray, the patient is asked to bite down on a special tool that assists the operator in positioning the patients head in the correct position. The patient is asked to stay very still while the panorex machine travels around the outside of the patients head, for approximately 20 seconds. The image is either displayed digitally on a computer or processed onto traditional X-ray film, to be used by the dentist.

Your dentist may recommend a panorex every five years, or whenever necessary for your specific situation.

The Similarity to a Cephalometric X-Ray

Having a panorex X-ray taken is very similar to having a cephalometric X-ray taken. Both X-rays focus on about the same area, and the process is similar.

A cephalometric X-ray, which is also sometimes referred to simply as a ceph, is a diagnostic radiograph used primarily for orthodontic treatment planning. A cephalometric X-ray is taken during the orthodontic records appointment. Cephalometric X-rays are also used by otolaryngologists — doctors who specialize in the treatment of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders such as sleep apnea — because these X-rays provide a view of the patient's airways.

The process of undergoing a cephalometric X-ray is pretty straightforward and similar to that of a panorex. Concentrating on the patient's profile — or side view of the head — the X-ray technician positions the patient according to specific criteria necessary when taking the X-ray.

The exposure usually lasts around 10 seconds and the X-ray can be developed in approximately five or six minutes. Most dental offices are equipped with the equipment necessary to take a cephalometric X-ray, as well as a panorex. Once developed, the dentist typically uses tracing paper, and will "trace the ceph" in order to calculate how the patient's jaw and surrounding bone will be affected by orthodontic treatment, along with providing the dentist with a look into the growth pattern of the jaw and teeth. This process can be used to determine potential courses of action and routes of treatment for dental issues.

Was this page helpful?