Dental X-rays—are they safe?
Should you be worried about the side-effects of dental X-rays? The conventional wisdom was that there is no safe radiation dose but new research suggests there is a threshold level for radiation. As long as you stay below that threshold, X-rays are very safe.
Thankfully, dental X-rays deliver small doses of radiation compared to other types of X-rays. The standard set of dental X-rays is what we call bitewing X-rays. This involves looking at the back teeth on both sides in order to pick up holes and examine bone levels around them.
However, many of my patients are concerned about the side-effects of dental X-rays. Here, I answer the most frequently asked questions about dental X-rays to put your fears to rest.
Do dental X-rays deliver a high dose of radiation?
Dental X-rays are at a very low dose. They would give you a similar amount of radiation as something like two hours in the sun, or an hour on a plane. And with digital X-rays, we’re now able to use a radiation dose that is about a third lower than what the conventional films were.
Why do I need a dental X-ray?
When we take dental X-rays, we’re looking for problems in places we can’t see. We can’t see in between your teeth. We can’t see the bone underneath your teeth. Often, we can’t see if decay is occurring in between your teeth until that decay gets quite advanced. Dental X-rays allow us to see things before they become big problems. They let us detect—and treat—any dental issues much earlier.
What’s the difference between an X-ray and an OPG?
An OPG is a type of X-ray. It stands for orthopantomograph. It’s a way of taking an X-ray of the major structures all the way around the mouth. The X-ray beam travels around your head and will show the areas from just behind one of your jaw joints to just behind the other joint.
It gives a good overall screening picture that shows all of your teeth. It will show where any impacted teeth are underneath the gums. It will show the nerve of the wisdom tooth. It will show the inferior dental nerve and it gives us a picture of the sinuses as well. It’s a good screening tool for identifying general dental problems.
Is an X-ray three-dimensional?
Both X-rays and OPGs are two-dimensional. If we need a three-dimensional image of your teeth, we would send you for the dental version of a CT scan, which is called a cone beam. A cone beam still uses X-rays, and the radiation dose does get a bit stronger. An OPG gives you about five to seven times more radiation than a conventional dental X-ray. A cone beam will result in about double that.
Is a cone beam still safe?
We manage the radiation dose. Even though a cone beam would give us the most amount of information, it’s not necessary for the majority of people. But the radiation dose of a cone beam is still a lot smaller than a lot of the conventional medical X-rays. This is because the machines are smaller and it takes less time to take the image.