How Safe are Dental X-Rays?

dental x-rays

While you’re at the dentist's office, even if you’re only getting a routine cleaning, your dentist might suggest doing some dental x-rays. This is a common procedure that allows your dentist to see deep beneath your gums to the roots of your teeth and to make sure that your enamel isn’t damaged. But are these dental x-rays safe? The short answer is yes – dental x-rays are beneficial for your oral health and use minimal amounts of radiation. In fact, there are many other sources of radiation in day-to-day life that introduce much more radiation than an x-ray does over the course of a year. To further ease your mind, let’s take a closer look at the facts about dental x-rays and radiation in general.

How Much Radiation is in a Dental X-Ray?

Many people express worry about the amount of radiation they will be exposed to during an x-ray or scan. It’s true that when x-rays were first introduced, people didn’t understand the dangers posed by repeated radiation exposure, and proper safety features had not yet been put into place. With the advancements of today’s knowledge and technology, the amount of radiation a person is exposed to during a dental x-ray is actually very little. By comparing the amounts of radiation from various sources, including some that people experience every day, you can see how little a dental x-ray will affect your overall exposure:

  • Smoking cigarettes: 1,300mrem per year
  • Average mammogram: 40mrem
  • Natural radiation from the soil beneath us: 35mrem per year
  • Chest x-ray: 10mrem
  • Using natural gas for cooking and heating: 9mrem per year
  • Drinking water: 5mrem per year
  • Transcontinental flight: 2-4mrem
  • Digital dental x-ray: 0.1mrem (Set of 4 bitewings: 0.4mrem)

Looking at these comparisons, you can see that a person is only minimally exposed to radiation during a dental x-ray.

More About Radiation

By studying the information above, it’s easy to see that you would be exposed to more radiation by flying across the country than you would be by getting an annual x-ray at your dental checkup. If you want even more proof – the amount of radiation you’re exposed to by eating a banana is about 0.01mrem. That means it only takes eating 10 bananas to equal the amount of radiation exposure from a single digital x-ray image. While it’s true that dental x-rays do expose you to some radiation, the benefits of having it done outweigh this tiny amount of radiation exposure.

Allowing your dentist to take these x-ray images allows them to see and diagnose a wide variety issues that could be going on in your enamel, gums, and the roots of your teeth. Many serious problems are difficult or impossible to see by simply peering into the mouth.

You might be wondering why the dentist covers you with a protective vest when they take a dental x-ray. This is an added safety measure to ensure that you’re being exposed to the least amount of radiation possible. It’s an easy precaution that will reduce the amount of radiation you’re exposed to over the course of your lifetime.

One exception when it comes to x-ray safety is pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you should avoid getting a dental x-ray until after you have given birth. This is another easy safety precaution that’s done to protect the baby. Developing fetuses are more susceptible to radiation problems than grown adults, because so much important growth is happening very quickly on a cellular and DNA level. It's just not worth it at that point to introduce even tiny amounts of avoidable radiation. You should still go to your regular dental checkups when pregnant, however. Just make sure that your dentist knows about your condition.

Who Needs a Dental X-Ray?

There are many reasons why a dentist might suggest taking a dental x-ray. They could be attempting to diagnose a problem that’s causing you pain. They might need to check on the structure of your mouth in order to apply dental work. Many dentists also suggest getting an annual x-ray to keep an eye on your overall oral health. Several of the issues that can be found using an x-ray are worse for your health than the tiny amount of radiation exposure. No matter the reason, it’s really not a big deal to have an occasional dental x-ray taken. Here are some problems that can be found using a dental x-ray:

  • Changes in a root canal.
  • Tumors or growths in the mouth.
  • Bone loss due to gum disease.
  • Areas of decay between the teeth.
  • Infections between the tooth and gums.

Any of these issues could go unchecked without the use of dental x-rays and could lead to far worse problems for you later on. When it comes to dental health, it's always easier, cheaper, and less painful to catch problems early. This is why x-rays are often done as a precautionary step when you visit your dentist for a cleaning.

X-Rays and Children

The amount of radiation in a dental x-ray is considered safe for children and is done to ensure that everything is going okay with their gum and teeth development. These x-rays help dentists in the following ways:

  • Determine if baby teeth are falling out and adult teeth are coming in properly.
  • Monitor development of the wisdom teeth.
  • Make sure the mouth is large enough to accommodate incoming adult teeth.
  • Identify gum disease and root issues early.

Getting your child to the dentist regularly and having their mouth and teeth checked is important. How often your child gets an x-ray during their visits will depend on your dentist and any problems that might arise with your child’s teeth and gums.

Overall, don’t let the worry of radiation exposure stop you from getting an x-ray at your visit to the dentist. Dental x-rays help much more than they hurt, and the dental staff needs to know what’s going on under and between your teeth to ensure that they're healthy and strong. Attending your regular dental check-ups is important not only for the health of your mouth, but for your overall health as well. If you need more motivation to have your mouth checked out, check out these serious diseases that are linked to tooth problems!