Are X-rays safe?

Because of widespread media coverage, patients may have questions about the safety of dental X-rays. Below are some potential questions and talking points.

I heard on the news that dental X-rays can cause brain tumors. Is that true?

  • There was a recent study that showed patients with a certain type of brain tumor were more likely to report they had dental X-rays in the past. But, that doesn’t mean dental X-rays cause brain tumors. The reliability of the results is uncertain because they were based on people’s memories—which are not always accurate—of dental X-rays taken many years ago. In some cases, the patients were asked to remember the type and frequency of X-rays taken when they were 10 or younger.
  • Some participants in the study had X-rays taken decades ago. Advancements in technology have successfully reduced radiation from dental X-rays to very low levels. In fact, they are among the lowest levels of all medical tests. This means that radiation levels were likely higher for the study participants than they are for patients today. As a point of comparison, the amount of radiation you’ll get from one bitewing X-ray is the same as from one hour flying in an airplane.
  • The good thing about the study is that it raises awareness that getting X-rays should not be taken lightly and should be done only when necessary.

What precautions do dentists take to reduce the radiation risks of dental X-rays?

  • Dentists use leaded aprons to protect the body and, whenever possible, thyroid collars around the neck to protect the thyroid gland. Both of these devices limit radiation exposure.
  • New technologies, like faster speed films and digital imaging, reduce exposure to radiation.

I am worried about having dental X-rays. What are the benefits?

  • There are many oral diseases that can’t be detected with just a visual or physical exam. Dental X-rays can help your dentist find cavities between your teeth or under fillings, gum and bone diseases, and infection under your gums, and some types of tumors. X-rays help dentists catch and treat these hidden problems at an early stage before more extensive and expensive dental treatment is needed.