How much radiation is in a dental x-ray? You might be surprised

March 20, 2023
Dental professionals can only see about a third of the tooth, so x-rays help them check the rest. But is the exposure to that "extra" radiation worth it, and how do they compare to other common sources of exposure? Find out here.

It’s not uncommon for people to have questions about why they need a dental x-ray every year or every other year.  After all, why expose yourself to extra radiation when you don’t have to? What if you haven’t had a cavity in years? Is the dentist just trying to make an extra buck?

The question is a little more complicated than that. We’re all familiar with man-made sources of radiation, such as medical imaging or nuclear power plants. But what you might not realize is radiation is a part of our natural environment, and we’re exposed to it all the time. Most of the natural radiation our bodies receive comes from radon in the air, as well as radiation from outer space and from elements in the Earth.

The normal “background” radiation we experience, including natural and man-made sources, has not been shown to cause humans any harm.1 This is because our bodies are able to repair cellular damage this level of radiation causes.

Over the decades, the amount of radiation needed to take a dental x-ray has decreased dramatically, and because the areas the dentist is taking a picture of are so small, the total radiation exposure is significantly less than other common medical imaging.

So, how do dental x-rays stack up against many of the common exposures we might experience? The truth might surprise you!

For dental professionals: This slideshow is brought to you by DentistryIQ and RDH magazine. Feel free to share this gallery with your patients, and check out these additional resources on x-rays in patient care.

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Taking x-rays on patients with mandibular tori

Taking radiographs can be tricky, no matter who the patient is—and for patients with tori, it can be downright painful. These tips can help you get a good x-ray while minimizing patient discomfort.

Handheld vs. conventional wall-mounted x-ray units

When Wilhelm Roentgen captured the first x-ray back in 1895, he probably never imagined the digitial revolution that would lead to today’s high-tech wall-mounted units and handheld x-ray devices.

Yes, dental x-rays are really necessary

"There are so many opinions wrapped up around this essential diagnostic tool. And the truth is, you might not need them. But before you refuse them, here’s what you need to know."

Endo x-rays made really, really easy

Dr. Stacey Gividen has a quick tip that will make those nightmarish endo radiographs easy! Have a listen in this video.


1. Doses in our daily lives. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Reviewed April 26, 2022.

2. Dental x-rays. University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

3. Radiation from air travel. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed December 7, 2015.

4. Cosmic radiation. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Updated March 9, 2021.

5. American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs, U.S, Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration. Dental Radiographic Examinations: Recommendations for Patient Selection and Limiting Radiation Exposure. Revised 2012.

6. How much radiation do I get from a dental x-ray? Kois Center.