Patients often ask about the harmful effects of radiation from dental x-rays. It seems like every day there is a new article in the news or social media on the topic. While there is validity to the harm of overexposure to radiation, dental x-rays, when appropriately taken, are relatively low risk. The most common dental x-ray taken, bitewing x-rays, give about 0.005 mSv of radiation. This is about the same amount of radiation that the average person is exposed to each day by the sun and other natural sources, according to the American College of Radiology. The panoramic x-ray, which spends around the head capturing all of the teeth as well as the upper and lower jaw, gives about twice that amount of radiation.
How Often Should Dental X-Rays Be Taken?
How often patients should receive dental x-rays depends on the overall oral health and age of the patient. Patients who have a history of cavities or gum disease will need x-rays taken more frequently than a patient who has optimal oral health. Children or adolescents with a high risk of developing dental disease may need dental x-rays taken even more often than adults with the same risk of disease. This is because disease can spread much quicker through a baby tooth than an adult tooth. The American Dental Society has posted guidelines on how often dental x-rays should be taken. Most commonly, bitewing x-rays are taken every 6-24 months and a complete series of x-rays or a panoramic x-ray is taken every 3-5 years.
Are Dental X-Rays Necessary?
Dental x-rays are important to aid the dentist in diagnosing any conditions involving the teeth, gums, or the bone supporting teeth. Cavities that begin in between teeth or underneath existing dental restorations can generally not be detected without x-rays until they are very large. Also, dentist use x-rays to detect any signs of infection or abscesses caused by teeth or gum disease. While it is important to have routine dental x-rays, care can be taken to limit the amount of radiation exposure.
Patients should always wear a lead apron and protective thyroid collar when having x-rays taken. Also, women should always let the dentist know if they are pregnant prior to receiving x-rays. While women can still receive x-rays when they are pregnant, reducing the amount of unnecessary radiation is even more important. Finally, the advancement of digital x-rays has allowed for drastic cuts in the amount of radiation exposure to the patient.