Dental X-Ray Safety


Dental checkups and teeth cleanings are essential to maintaining good oral health. During the exam dental professionals will perform a variety of services, including these procedures:

  • Evaluate the health of your gums and tissues
  • Remove plaque and tartar between and on tooth surfaces
  • Check your bite to ensure foods are chewed correctly to avoid chipping or cracking teeth or putting stress on facial and jaw muscles
  • Diagnose decay and other problems that may harm your oral health
  • Develop a treatment plan to improve your oral health

Dental X-rays are an important tool dentists use to evaluate the healthiness of your teeth. Sometimes patients wonder why X-rays are necessary and how much radiation they will receive during the process. According to the American Dental Association, X-rays allow dentists to see inside a tooth and under the gums to identify decay and disease that are not visually apparent, as well as determine treatment options.

Radiation Exposure

During the dental X-ray process, patients are exposed to a small amount of radiation. Radiation is measured in units called millirem (mrems). Dental X-ray machines currently used by many dental offices in the United States operate with a fast-speed film, reducing the amount of radiation exposure. In fact, patients receive about 2 to 3 mrems per image, which is significantly less than in previous years. During the procedure a lead apron is placed over the patient’s upper body to deflect radiation exposure to vital organs, and the X-ray cone is focused on teeth in a small area of the mouth for each image. Pregnant women often skip X-rays anyway just to be on the safe side.

The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement reports that on average Americans are exposed to approximately 360 mrems annually from a variety of external sources, such as the following:

  • Smoke detectors – Emit less than 1 mrem
  • Brick materials used in a house – Approximately 10 mrems from radioactive masonry materials
  • Natural gas stove – About 10 mrems from radon gas contained in the natural gas
  • Reading a book for at least three hours daily – At least 1 mrem from radioactive materials in wood supplies used to make the paper
  • Air travel – About 5 mrems per round-trip across the United States from exposure to higher altitudes
  • Sharing a bed with a partner – Exposure to at least 2 mrems from the small amount of radiation released from the other person

Medical researchers report that exposure to high amounts of radiation may increase the risk of individuals developing serious health problems, such as cancer. The American Dental Association advises dentists to avoid over-exposing patients to unnecessary radiation by monitoring the frequency of X-ray procedures. If you have questions about radiation exposure from dental X-rays, contact your dental office for more information.

How often do you schedule an appointment for a dental cleaning and checkup? – Ken VanCleave, Ameritas Group