Dental x-rays are an important tool for diagnosing dental problems that may not be detectable during a visual oral examination. However, some patients question the safety of these x-rays because of concerns about radiation exposure.
Radiation is measured in units called millirems, or mrems for short. According to the American Nuclear Society, we are exposed to hundreds of naturally occurring mrems from our food, our water, and our air. In fact, even owning a smoke detector or taking a trip on an airplane results in a small amount of radiation exposure.
The truth is that the amount of radiation produced by traditional film x-rays (those that use bite wings) is very minimal, about 0.5 mrems per x-ray. These numbers are significantly lower than the x-rays used in hospitals and medical offices, which can range anywhere from 10 to 600 mrems. Digital x-rays emit even lower levels – estimates range between 70-90% less than traditional x-rays. And while the technologically advanced 3-D cone beam scanner does emit higher levels of radiation than both traditional and digital x-rays, the levels are still far below the threshold for what would be considered unsafe. Furthermore, the valuable diagnostic information gained from the creation of these three-dimensional images greatly outweighs the risks.