Are dental X-rays safe

dental radiology

When X-rays become harmful

The average annual radiation dose per person in the U.S. is 6.2 millisieverts. Is it too much? Are we in danger?
X-rays are electromagnetic waves capable of passing through all objects while having effects on the molecules they pass through. Their dose is measured by the Sievert, this allowed us to determine the risky doses and thus set limits. Studies have shown that beyond 100 millisievert, the risk of cancer increases in adults, which is far from the annual dose received by an American.
Like dental radiology, the doses used are very low.

Should we be wary of low and medium doses?

For low and medium doses, the effects are said to be probabilistic because they differ from one person to another and are largely a matter of chance. In the vast majority of cases, this luck smiles on us and nature seems to repair the transformations that radiation has caused. When nature does not repair, cancers, or even genetic effects, can appear years after exposure.

What about high doses?

1000 millisievert is a very high dose. This level of exposure to radioactivity has a direct effect on health and can be fatal in the weeks and months that follow. From this dose level, ionizing radiation begins to destroy the bone marrow. They reach stem cells and cause a decrease in blood platelets and white blood cells.

How do x-rays affect us?

X-rays are capable of interacting with the DNA molecules causing its modification, this one having control over the entire function of the cell will either cause its death or its proliferation into cancer, even if the risks are very low we must reduce them as much as possible.
Now that you know the dangers and risks of x-rays, you may be wondering:
Are dental x-rays safe? What are the different types of exams and their risks? Who are the riskiest people? How to protect ourselves from dental x-rays?

Are dental X-rays safe ?

To understand the complexity of the problem, you must know that medical imaging is not the only source of radiation. We are exposed daily to low doses of ionizing radiation which come from: air, cosmic radiation, water, food... The unit of measurement of radiation doses is the Sievert, we are exposed every day to some micro Sievert, which is very little.

Dental x-rays are one of the lowest radiation dose studies performed. A routine exam which includes 4 bitewings is about 0.005 millisievert, which is less than one day of natural background radiation. Cephalometric examination and intraoral dental X-rays use 0.002-0.008 millisievert, which is the same amount of radiation exposure from a short airplane flight (~1-2 hrs). Proper shielding is also common, which makes the potential risk even lower.

Even if the risk is very low, radiation doses should be minimized as much as possible due to variations in individual sensitivity. Some people can get cancer at low doses of radiation for several reasons including genetics and environmental factors.

Yes, technology has improved and the digital x-rays used today expose us to much less radiation than before. Plus, protective aprons do lower our risk of exposure, but, is it enough?


A study by Professor Elizabeth Claus of Yale University and her colleagues found that people who have had bitewing tests once a year or more have a further risk multiplied by a factor of 1.4 to 1.9 times suffer from a meningioma. Increased risk is also found in people who have undergone frequent panoramic dental x-ray examinations. So those who underwent these examinations before the age of ten have a 4.9-fold risk of developing a meningioma. As for adults who have undergone this examination once a year or more, the risk is, depending on the age, multiplied by a factor of 2.7 to 3.

A limitation of the study is that its findings were based on patient recall of dental X-rays, not more objective medical data, which is not available. However, the study is consistent with earlier and smaller ones that documented an increased risk of tumors associated with dental X-rays.

What about children and pregnant?

Children are at the greatest risk of developing cancer from radiation exposure. This is due to the high potential of their cells to divide and thus promote the spread of the lesion. Strict measures should be considered when exposing children. A leaded apron minimizes radiation exposure to your child’s abdomen, while a leaded thyroid collar protects the thyroid from radiation.
Even if the risks of radiation should not be underestimated, the benefits of dental radiography should not be overlooked. The practitioner must, therefore, ensure that the benefit is greater than the risk before taking radiography.


Much like the risk estimates in adults, fetal risk estimates are not proven with any certainty, the dose of radiation delivered to the fetus during a dental X-ray varies between 0.3-1 μSv which is much lower than the daily radiation received. Despite this, the risks are taken very seriously. We know that children are more sensitive than adults, so we assume the fetus is at even higher risk. If there is any chance you may be pregnant, you must inform your doctor as well as the staff that is performing your study.

No scientific data has been able to decide on the danger of dental x-rays. As a patient, what are the means we have to reduce the risks of dental x-rays?

How to protect yourself from dental X-rays

The best way to protect yourself from radiation is to reduce the number of X-rays exams:
  • The benefits must be greater than the risks, so annual and unnecessary radiography should be avoided in patients who have no symptoms.
  • Find your previous radios: Always bring your previous radios instead of asking for new ones.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Prefer digital radiography: In general, digital radiography represents a reduction of about 50% compared to conventional radiography.