Safety of dental X-rays

by Jacquelyn Do, DDS

X-ray technology has provided immeasurable diagnostic benefits to the medical and dental community. Doctors can now identify and prevent the progression of disease at earlier stages. With the development of digital imaging technology, the amount of radiation exposure in routine dental x-rays are now considered negligible.

A comparison of our daily natural environmental radiation exposure with the amount of radiation in dental x-rays will help in understanding the risks and benefits encountered during your child’s routine dental check-ups.

According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the average American receives an effective dose of 3 millisieverts (mSv) per year from naturally occurring radioactive materials and cosmic radiation from outer space. Naturally occurring radioactive materials can be found in the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Cosmic radiation is that which we receive from the sun in the form of UVA/UVB wavelengths.

For a child who is in their primary dentition and has not yet lost their first baby tooth, the dental x-rays indicated to be taken by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), are two bitewings and two periapicals. The total amount of radiation for this set is 0.008 mSv. If a child has one or more adult teeth then a panoramic x-ray is indicated in addition to the bitewing and periapical x-rays. The amount of radiation exposure in a single panoramic x-ray is 0.007 mSV.

Following are comparisons of effective radiation dose with naturally-occurring environmental radiation exposure:

Procedure/source of exposure Approximate radiation dose Comparable to natural environmental radiation for: *Additional lifetime risk of fatal cancer
CT Head Scan

2 mSv

8 months

Very Low



7 weeks

Very Low

Chest X-ray

0.1 mSv

10 day


Coast to coast flight in a commercial airplane

0.03 mSv

2 bitewing and 2 periapical dental x-rays

0.008 mSv

1 day


Panoramic X-ray

0.007 mSv

1 day


Depending on your child’s dental health and history, the AAPD recommends that children have dental x-rays taken as soon as their teeth touch and proximal services cannot be visualized or probed. Then, once every 12-18 months, thereafter, and more frequently when there is a past experience of tooth decay or an increased risk for tooth decay. Examples of factors that increase the risk for tooth decay are poor oral hygiene, inadequate fluoride exposure, prolonged nursing, and frequent high sugar content in the diet.

Tooth decay left undiagnosed and untreated can often times lead to dental pain or emergency. With the help of your child’s pediatric dentist you can gain the information and tools vital to keeping your child cavity-free. Schedule your child’s first dental check-up by their first birthday and every 6 months following. Prevention and early diagnose is key to a healthy dental home.



Risk Level Approximate additional risk of fatal cancer for an adult from exposure
Negligible: Less than 1 in 1,000,000
Minimal: 1 in 1,000,000 to 1 in 100,000
Very Low: 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 10,000
Low: 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000
Moderate: 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 500


photo (54)Dr. Jacquelyn Do grew up in Yorba Linda, California and completed her undergraduate degree in biological sciences at the University of California, Irvine.  Her specialty training began at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in New York City, after which she continued her focused training in pediatric dentistry at New York University College of Dentistry, the NYU Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital and the Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center. This extended specialty training has provided her with a solid foundation of knowledge on delivering dental care to children with special needs and medically compromised conditions. She practiced pediatric dentistry privately in New York, until deciding to relocate back to California to be closer to her family and sunny weather.  “Dr. Jackie” and her staff at Sunny Smiles Kids Pediatric Dentistry are available to treat Coast families living in the Del Mar and surrounding areas.  

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