Are Dental X-Rays Safe? Benefits vs. Risks

Dental visits often include a range of oral examination methods. Some of them include a detailed physical examination of the mouth followed by radiographic evaluation. Dental x-ray helps to identify problems like tooth decay, the extent of the cavity, tooth impactions, bone loss, and tooth infections. Dental x-rays use low levels of radiation energy to capture the image of your teeth on a small radiographic film.

Hard tissues like teeth and bone absorb more radiation as compared to soft gums and cheeks. This is the reason why the teeth and bone appear more bright on the radiographic film. Dental x-rays may seem complicated and harmful due to radiation exposure. However, they are an essential tool in identifying even the smallest dental issues that may be resent in your mouth.


Many dentists consider radiographic evaluation as essential as regular tooth cleaning. Let’s continue to read further and understand the benefits of dental x-rays while also looking at some of the risk factors.

What are dental x-rays?

Dental x-rays are a type of diagnostic aid which is used to address some of the potential oral issues in a patient’s mouth. Typically, an x-ray image is formed by a controlled burst of focused x-ray radiation. This radiation penetrates the various oral tissues at different levels depending on the anatomical densities of each tissue. (1) Hard tissues like teeth and bone appear light as they absorb more radiation. Infections, tooth decay, and changes in the bone density may appear as dark spots.

What is the purpose of dental x-rays?

Dental x-rays are usually performed yearly to evaluate the current oral status of the patient. However, several factors may affect the frequency of talking dental x-rays. These include –

  • Age of the patient
  • Current oral health condition (2)
  • Symptoms of oral disease as found during a physical dental examination
  • History of gum disease or tooth decay.

Every new patient requires a dental x-ray examination to provide the dentist with a clear picture of their dental health. Children usually expect to have dental x-rays more often than adults to monitor continuous growth and development of their teeth.

What are the benefits of dental x-rays?

Before deciding on taking a dental x-ray, a dentist must always weigh the benefits of radiographic requirements against the risk of exposing the patient to radiation. (3) Dental x-rays are focused only on a small specific area of your mouth. Hence they do not pose more significant exposure threat as compared to the radiographs taken for systemic illness. Following are some of the benefits of using dental x-rays –

  • Most of the tooth and gums parts are undetectable to the naked eye, for example, tooth root, bone infections, tumors, the extent of tooth decay, secondary caries, and bone loss. Dental x-rays help to detect these issues at an early stage and allows prompt treatment. (4)
  • Dental x-rays are an essential tool for identifying the development of wisdom teeth. Furthermore, it helps to determine the best method and time for tooth extraction.
  • Dental x-rays during the procedure allow the dentist to keep a track on your healing and to spot any other problems that may exist.
  • Dental x-rays detect the tiniest amounts of tooth decay, which can often go unnoticed with the naked eye.
  • They are a great tool to check the progress of gum disease and periodontal infections.

What are the risks associated with dental x-rays?

There no denying that x-rays expose the patient to radiation energy. However, the dosage and level of exposure to dental x-rays may be minimal as compared to full body x-rays. Some of the risk factors of dental x-rays include –

  • The radiation from dental x-ray exposure represents only 2.5% of the total dose received from other medical x-ray exposure.
  • The exposure from digital x-rays is even low as compared to conventional dental x-ray radiation. (5)
  • Dental x-rays may pose a threat to a pregnant woman. Therefore, it is advised to avoid dental x-rays during the first trimester. However, it is best to opt-out of dental x-rays until the birth unless there is an emergency dental procedure to be performed.
  • Overexposure of x-ray may cause damage to vital organs like thyroid, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. Therefore, every x-ray unit must have a lead apron and a thyroid collar to protect the patient from harmful radiation.

What are the different types of dental x-rays?

There are a wide range of dental x-rays that are taken as per the requirement –

  • Bitewing – These x-rays cover the crowns of both upper and lower teeth on one single film. These are mainly used to evaluate proximal caries and fitting of the restorative crown.
  • Occlusal – These x-rays are used to detect anatomical abnormalities on the palate and floor of the mouth.
  • Periapical – this is the most common type of dental x-ray which is taken to evaluate a tooth from root to crown.
  • Panoramic – These x-rays provide a full view of the oral cavity on one single radiographic film. It is mainly used to check wisdom teeth, jaw problems, and during implant placement.

Additionally, some extra-oral x-rays may be used when your dentist suspects a problem in areas outside the teeth and gum.

Take away message

Dental x-rays are an essential part of diagnosing dental problems. They play an integral role in maintaining your overall oral health and wellness. Having a detailed, thorough dental check-up brings a sense of relief. However, it doesn’t mean that you get x-rays done regularly. A dentist must always weigh the benefits of using a dental x-ray over the risks associated with it for every patient.


Several factors like age, health condition, insurance coverage, and dental problem determine the need for having a dental x-ray. For a first dental visit, dental x-rays are essential to understand the oral condition of the patient. Discuss with your dentist about the need for dental x-rays in your case. If you are pregnant or have any systemic illness, inform your dentist right away to protect yourself from unnecessary x-ray radiations.


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