If you're an adult with healthy teeth and no risk of harm or illness, you can talk to your dentist about the possibility of skipping an X-ray during your checkup. The American Dental Association states that healthy adults with no apparent risk of oral damage can have X-rays every two or three years. However, if you have a history of dental problems or have demonstrated that you may develop damage or illness, your dentist will recommend more frequent X-rays to ensure that your oral health is good. X-rays are essential for general dentists to detect any bone loss, jaw malposition, or changes in the teeth that may not be visible to the eye.
Without annual X-rays, any problem that isn't visible could go unnoticed and cause potentially serious dental problems, such as tooth decay. X-rays detect any current or developing issues, such as damage or disease, in the teeth and gums that would not otherwise be visible on an exam. It's important to note that dental X-rays emit very low levels of radiation, so as long as you're exposed to radiation, the levels are low enough to minimize any risk of potentially harmful effects. Radiation levels are so low that even people who are pregnant or breastfeeding can have dental X-rays safely and without fear.
Professional dental organizations publish general guidelines on when X-rays should be taken to help dentists make these vitally important decisions. In general, the amount of radiation you receive from dental X-rays is relatively small, especially compared to the radiation you receive from natural background sources. However, I would be wary of situations where the dental assistant does the X-rays before the dentist has seen the patient. It's impossible to know, because there are no good studies that show the right amount of X-rays that should be done to a person who doesn't have any particular dental problem.
To protect yourself from unnecessary radiation exposure, make sure your dentist is following provincial regulations when imaging is taken, such as placing lead aprons and neck collars on patients.