Dental x-rays are images that dentists use to evaluate your oral health.  Most people are familiar with cavity-detecting x-rays, but many people do not realize that x-rays also give us a lot of information about the health of the bone supporting the teeth as well.  X-rays are essential in the diagnosis of many oral conditions.


Dental x-rays (also called radiation) are a form of energy, similar to sound waves or radio waves.  Unlike sound or radio waves, however, dental x-rays have enough energy to pass through your body.  In doing so, images are created.

Some of the radiation passing through the body gets absorbed.  This is called an “effective dose” and is measured in millisieverts (mSv).  We can compare the “effective dose” to everyday sources of radiation.  We all get about 3 mSv of radiation per year from natural background radiation, possibly more, depending on where we live.  Those living at higher altitudes get higher doses of radiation.

Some examples of radiation include:

Cross-country airline flight: 0.03 mSv

Dental x-ray: 0.05 mSv

Chest x-ray: 0.1 mSv (comparable to 10 days of natural background radiation)

Mammogram: 0.4 mSv (comparable to 7 weeks of natural background radiation)

CT scan of abdomen: 10 mSv (comparable to 3 years of natural background radiation)

PET scan: 25 mSv (comparable to 8 years of natural background radiation)


How often should I get dental x-rays?  Our office does not take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to dental x-rays.  We like to have baseline x-rays at your first visit, and then base your need for updated dental x-rays on your risk for periodontal disease and caries susceptibility.  We may recommend updated x-rays to see developing wisdom teeth, check bone level, plan for implant placement, or visualize your temperomandibular joint.

Our office takes care to protect you from unnecessary radiation. We use digital radiography, which produces less radiation than non-digital radiographs.  We use a protective lead apron and consider the risk-to-benefit ratio of taking x-rays.

The American Dental Association has good information on dental x-rays as well.  Visit for more information.

As always, you may contact our office with any questions