Are dental X-rays safe and necessary?

X-ray purposes

Dental X-ray exams are only carried out when the risk of not having the examination is greater than exposure to radiation.

Dental X-rays help our dentists detect oral health problems like cavities and gum disease before they progress.

Why you’ll need an X-ray

With several types of dental X-rays, like intraoral (taken inside the mouth) and extraoral (taken outside the mouth), we can get to the root of your dental problem much easier and faster.

Dental X-rays are essential to maintaining proper oral health and helping dentists understand what’s happening under the surface or not visible during a regular examination.

The level of radiation is very low with modern dental X-rays, and professional bodies determined that using lead aprons for clinical staff, for example, was no longer necessary.

What our dentists use dental X-rays to detect:

Dental X-rays help our dentists with their diagnosis of a wide range of oral health problems:

  • Cavities, mainly showing small areas of decay between teeth.
  • Arising decay forming beneath existing dental fillings.
  • Bone loss or depletion in the jaw.
  • Any areas of infection or the position of unerupted or impacted wisdom teeth.
  • An infection of the tooth’s root, between gums and the tooth, or an abscess.

Dental X-rays are commonly used in patient cases to determine suitability and eligibility for dental treatments like dental implants, braces, or dentures, and also help the dentist check how the mouth, teeth and gums are healing after certain procedures like dental bone grafts and root canal therapy.

Can I refuse dental X-rays?

You have the right to refuse a dental X-ray as a patient and an individual. However, at the same time, you should understand that most dentists will likely not offer you particular services and treatments without them.

If radiation exposure concerns you, we invite you to speak to our dentist, who can help you weigh the pros and cons and why an X-ray might be an integral part of your treatment.

Types of X-rays:

  • Intraoral X-rays: These are where the film or sensor is inside your mouth, and they include scans like Bitewing, Periapical, or Occlusal X-rays.
  • Extraoral X-rays: The film or sensor is outside of the mouth, including scans like Panoramic, Cephalometric or Cone beam CT scans.

“For a routine bitewing x-ray, the exposure would be 0.005mSv, equivalent to one day of average natural background radiation.” NHS

Dental X-ray guidance on safety

Overall, it’s found that the radiation risk from a dental x-ray is small.

In fact, the amount of radiation patients can get from a full set of dental X-rays is comparable to the amount of radiation that can be absorbed from devices like TVs, smartphones, and computers.

Dental X-rays are primarily harmful, however, in substantial doses, which can increase your risk of developing cancer—that’s why they are not recommended more often than necessary. As a good rule of thumb, dental X-rays should only be taken once every six to 18 months if you have healthy teeth and gums.

However, you might need X-rays more frequently in cases of gum disease, recurring decay, or other time-sensitive oral problems.