Are Dental X-rays Safe?

Dentists can tell a lot from looking at your teeth, but not everything is visible to the naked eye

By taking an x-ray of your mouth, your dentist can get a more complete picture of your teeth, jaws and other structures. This can help them to diagnose problems with greater accuracy and to plan treatments more effectively.[1]

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Dental x-rays use a small amount of radiation. If you're worried about how this might affect your body and you want to know if x-rays are safe for you or your children, your dentist will explain what the procedure involves and let you know if it's really necessary.[1]

How do x-rays work?

X-ray machines use radiation to take images of parts of the body that are not normally visible. X-rays are absorbed differently by different structures in the body, so hard tissues such as teeth and bone show up clearly while soft tissues are more transparent.[2]

X-rays are also known as plain radiography. Dentists often use an orthopantomogram (OPG) scan that presents a wide view of the mouth. In some situations, your dentist may recommend other types of radiography such as a computed tomography (CT) scan.[2]

When is an x-ray needed?

Dentists only use x-rays if they feel they are necessary. They may be used during your comprehensive dental assessment, especially if you have symptoms of a possible oral health problem or if it's been a year or more since your last check-up.[1]

Dental x-rays are often useful for early diagnosis of problems such as:[1]

  • tooth decay and gum disease

  • dental abscesses or infections

  • orthodontic problems

  • wisdom teeth problems

  • injuries to the teeth and jaws

  • problems with fillings, crowns and other dental restorations

X-rays may also be used when developing a treatment plan, especially for more complex procedures such as dental implants or wisdom teeth removal.[2]

What happens during an x-ray?

If you need an x-ray, this may be done at the dental clinic or another facility. Your body will be shielded from unnecessary exposure and you can sit comfortably while the machine takes images of your teeth and jaws. This normally takes less than 15 minutes to complete and you won't feel pain or discomfort.[2]

Is the radiation safe?

Frequent exposure to radiation over time can increase the risk of developing health problems such as cancer later in life, but this is unlikely with the low amount of radiation used in dental x-rays.[1] In fact, the radiation involved in a typical x-ray is comparable to what you'd be exposed to on a short flight.[1]

Your dentist will still advise against having multiple x-rays too close together to minimise the possible risk. That's why dentists and radiographers leave the room while x-rays are in use, to avoid unnecessary exposure every day.[1]

Other types of radiography such as CT scans may use more radiation, but this is still within levels considered safe. If you have a dental problem or other health problem that goes undiagnosed because an x-ray wasn't taken, this is likely to cause more harm to your body than the x-ray.[2]

Who should avoid x-rays?

Regardless of whether you’re a child or an adult, you can have X-rays safely taken of the inside and outside of your mouth. The amount of radiation involved is extremely low, and is equivalent to the sort of exposure you’d receive on a 1-2 hour flight. This means that even if you’re pregnant you can have X-rays taken, although they are generally kept to a minimum during this period.

Oh, and that thing about your dentist leaving the room while the X-rays are taken? Nothing to worry about there – they’re taking lots of X-rays all day long and stepping out of the room limits their ongoing exposure to radiation.

Make an appointment with our Wagga dentists

If it's time for your regular check-up or you want to talk to a dentist, contact our friendly team at Morgan Street Dental Centre. We can help you arrange an appointment or give you information about the treatments and technologies at our dental clinic in Wagga Wagga NSW.

Call us today on (02) 69219500 or contact us online.

References

[1] Australian Dental Association. Dental X-rays [Online] 2016 [Accessed October 2018] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Younger-Adults-18-30/Dental-X-Rays

[2] Healthdirect. X-rays [Online] 2017 [Accessed October 2018] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/x-rays

cheryl cheung