Dental x-rays, like other imaging technologies such as CT scans and MRIs, use ionizing radiation to create an image of the human body or a specific part of it. They're helpful when your dentist wants to figure out what might be causing tooth or gum pain, watch how your oral health is progressing with treatments like orthodontics or root canal therapy, diagnose periodontal disease, identify hidden dental caries, evaluate implants and much more.
As with any technology that uses ionizing radiation, the question of safety arises whenever dental x-rays are involved—particularly if those x-rays are routinely taken, as most are these days. In this article, we’ll discuss what scientific studies say about the safety of dental x-rays and how to limit your exposure to them.
The Good News About X-Rays
We typically think of x-rays as the enemy, and we avoid them whenever possible. But is it really possible to be exposed to too many dental x-rays? The short answer is no—at least not according to what the research has found.
We encounter radiation naturally - cosmic radiation filters down through the atmosphere, terrestrial radiation comes up from the earth in rocks and building materials, and trace amounts of radiation are found in what we eat, drink, and breathe.
On average, Americans are exposed to about 3 mSv (or 300 mrem) of natural radiation in a year, though this varies from place to place. A report from the World Health Organization said that an accumulated dose (or dose rate) to any individual of less than 10 mSv per year appears unlikely to produce adverse health effects.
Dental X-Rays Dangers
Although it is true that a small amount of radiation does go into your body when you get a dental x ray, studies have found that amount is not harmful. Your radiation dose for one dental x ray has to be 500 times more than your daily recommended dose in order to cause any harm.
Should I Be Afraid of Getting an X-Ray Procedure?
Given that dental x-rays have become an integral part of a dentist's examination, it is understandable to be concerned about their safety.
However, thanks to modern technological advancements and decades of research, there is no reason for patients to be afraid.
How Much Radiation Is In Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)?
Reveal Diagnostics advanced imaging technology delivers a wide range of dental imaging solutions to help dentists perform precise procedures, while lowering patients’ radiation exposure by as much as 75%.
The majority of our CT scans have a radiation effective dose equivalent to four or five hours of high-altitude air flight, or 11 to 15 days of normal background radiation in the United States. Our goal is to keep radiation exposure risks as low as reasonably achievable.
The Cone Beam Computed Tomography equipment at Reveal Diagnostics dental imaging centers has an ECO Dose function and SafeBeam Technology that adapt the radiated dose to the examined area: from full neck and head imaging for chiropractic diagnoses to TMJ or full mouth imaging up to a single tooth imaging for wisdom tooth.
How Many Dental X-rays Are Safe In A Year?
Some people have a fear of going to the dentist because they worry about having to get x-rays. Most people get an average of 20 x-rays per year and are always safe, according to American Association of Pediatric Dentistry guidelines. But people who need extra x-rays (due to fillings, extractions, root canals, etc.) may get as many as 60 each year.
In these cases, you may want to seek a second opinion from your dentist before proceeding with more x-rays. If you are pregnant and want to know if dental x-rays are safe for your baby, we recommend that you talk with your doctor about whether it is appropriate for you to get an x-ray.
Can Minimizing Exposures Reduce Radiation Doses?
Can you minimize radiation exposure by only getting x-rays when needed? Overall, dentists often say it makes sense for their patients to get checked at least once a year even if they have no symptoms. It can help catch problems early and prevent more extensive treatment down the line.
The American Dental Association recommends that adults with an average risk of developing dental problems should visit their dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning, or sooner if necessary.