Dental X-rays are a valuable tool for diagnosing and treating dental problems, but they also expose you to radiation. While the risk of a single dental X-ray is very small, it's important to minimize your exposure as much as possible. The American Dental Association (ADA) suggests that patients with recurrent tooth decay and other complicated problems have X-rays taken once or twice a year, while those with optimal dental health can go two to three years between X-rays. Full X-rays are also common in preparation for many dental procedures, such as extractions and root straightening.
It's important to remember that there are multiple sources of radiation in your daily life that expose you to higher levels, over a year, than a dental X-ray. For example, a plane trip or a few days in the sun can expose you to more radiation than a single dental X-ray. X-rays allow dentists to get a complete picture of the health of your teeth, bones and gums, and to discover small problems before they become major problems. Many dental problems are invisible to the naked eye, and X-rays allow the dentist to identify issues with tooth enamel, gums, and tooth roots.
If you're a new patient, you may be asked for dental X-rays to determine your oral health and to have a baseline for identifying changes that may occur later on. Your dentist will also be able to tell you how often you should have X-rays based on your individual needs. Generally speaking, you should not have X-rays unless it is a dental problem that absolutely requires an X-ray to develop a treatment plan. It's important to be aware of your own dental health and the risks associated with radiation exposure.
Talk to your dentist about any concerns you may have about the frequency of your X-rays and make sure that you understand the risks and benefits of each procedure.