A dentist uses an X-ray machine to examine a patient's mouth. The patient is wearing a lead apron to protect herself from radiation exposure.

Radiation Exposure and Dental X-Rays

Dental X-rays need to be taken in order to properly evaluate a patient’s oral health status. How many and how often is usually the topic of discussion during a dental examination. Dentists consider the risk of radiation exposure, as well as the proper guidelines they need to follow, before making their final decision.

Should I Be Worried About Radiation Exposure?

A dentist tilts a little girl's head upward, so that her jaw aligns with an X-ray machine. The little girl is wearing a lead apron to protect herself from radiation exposure.

Many dentists have carefully evaluated how to protect patients from radiation exposure.

Patients are often concerned about radiation exposure from X-rays. Dental X-rays are an important and necessary tool that dentists use to detect dental problems, both new and long standing. Your dentist carefully considers how often and how many dental X-rays are needed.

The dentist’s goal is to minimize the patient’s radiation exposure, and to obtain proper diagnostic information. Patients experience more radiation exposure on a daily basis from their normal environment. A total yearly radiation dose from all sources in the U.S. is 6.2 mSv (millisieverts) — natural sources represent about half of the exposure (3.1 mSv), and the other half is contributed to CT scanning. Now digital dental X-rays represent only 10% of exposure, as compared to older traditional film-based X-rays.

Dentists also use lead aprons to protect their patients from radiation. When the apron is worn appropriately, it reflects all radiation away from the body.

The Guidelines for How Often You Need an X-ray

The published guidelines are a useful starting point for making decisions about dental X-rays. They allow dentists to provide minimally invasive care for their patients.

The best way to decide about how many and how often dental X-rays should be taken is to first assess the individual patient’s needs. This should be based on their previous dental history and risk for developing oral diseases. The dentist will then look for the most common dental diseases: tooth decay and periodontal disease.

If a dental emergency occurs, dental X-rays can provide the much-needed information for a diagnosis.


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