What are the possible risks of dental x-rays?

Dental x-ray exams require very low levels of radiation exposure, which makes the risk of potentially harmful effects very small. Dental x-ray tools and techniques are designed to limit the body's exposure to radiation and every precaution is taken to ensure that radiation exposure is As Low As Reasonable Achievable (the ALARA principle). A leaded apron minimizes exposure to the abdomen and should be used when any dental radiograph is taken. Also, a leaded thyroid collar can protect the thyroid from radiation, and should also be used whenever possible. The use of a leaded thyroid collar is recommended for women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children. Dental x-ray exams do not need to be delayed if you are trying to become pregnant or are breast feeding.

The ADA encourages patients to talk to their dentists if they have any questions about their dental treatment and visit the American Dental Association’s website at ADA.org.

Dental x-rays expose a patient to a very low level of radiation. A full series of dental x-rays (18) has 27 times less radiation than a lower gastrointestinal (GI) series and 20 times less radiation than one year of normal background radiation from the environment. Dental checkup x-rays (4 bitewings) has 79 times less radiation than a year of normal background radiation.

In spite of these low radiation levels, dentists are very concerned about minimizing the amount of radiation a patient receives at the dental office. That's why we use special high-speed film, can use digital x-rays, and cover patients with a lead apron during x-ray procedures. Dental x-rays are very safe and extremely important to you and your dentist and should not be avoided based on unfounded fears about radiation exposure.

An x-ray is a common and generally safe procedure. However, though the dose of radiation used to make a dental image is usually small,  x-rays can, in rare cases, damage healthy tissue. The damage is usually the result of cumulative dental x-rays or the combination of dental x-rays and other sources of radiation, such as sunlight and medical x-rays.

It is possible that dental x-rays slightly increase the risk of cancer. Newer three-dimensional x-ray machines, known as computed tomography, used for special procedures, expose patients to doses of radiation that are several times higher than normal.

In rare accidents, patients have suffered illness after being severely overexposed by computed tomography machines used for medical diagnoses. These small risks must be measured against the potential benefit of finding and diagnosing oral diseases, which can also cause serious health problems.

Continue Learning about Oral Health

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.