Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

Every year, doctors cause an estimated 29,000 cancers a year dosing patients with X-rays during CAT scans. What about dentists? 100 million Americans are exposed to dental X-rays every year, but don’t the lead apron and thyroid shield protect our vital organs? All our vital organs, except one—our brain!

study entitled “Dental X-Rays and Risk of Meningioma,” was recently published. The objective was to explore the association between dental X-rays—the most common artificial source of ionizing radiation—and the risk of intracranial meningioma, the most common type of brain tumor.

The researchers found that those who report ever having a bitewing X-ray had twice the odds of a brain tumor, and those that got a panoramic series—the full mouth X-rays—before age 10 had nearly 5 times the odds.

While more research is needed, the bottom line is the benefits and risks of radiation exposure must always be carefully weighed. Dentists should consider the justification for every exposure. Furthermore, dentists should not prescribe routine dental X-rays at preset intervals for all patients (such as every 6 months or year, etc.). Says who? Says the official recommendations of the American Dental Association. There is little evidence to support irradiating people looking at all the teeth in search of hidden problems in asymptomatic patients. Accordingly, dentists should select patients wisely—only take X-rays when there is patient-specific reason to believe there is a reasonable expectation the X-rays will offer unique information influencing diagnosis or treatment.

I was actually just at the dentist for my check-up and was again offered a set of full mouth X-rays (because I was “due”). Normally when I refuse routine dental X-rays I’ve just explained that I try to minimize my radiation exposure, but this time I was able to refuse “as per the official recommendation of the American Dental Association!” I just got a blank stare.

More on avoiding brain tumors in:

This is the third in a five part series on preventing and mediating the adverse effects of radiation exposure. The first, Fukushima and Radioactivity in Seafood, described the natural and artificial sources of radioactive isotopes in our diet. The previous video, Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation, detailed the estimated 29,000 cancers that doctors cause with CAT scans every year. I also have videos on Mediating Radiation Exposure from Air Travel, in which I talk about those full-body scanners in airports. And I close out with ways to mediate all these risks with Reducing Radiation Damage With Ginger And Lemon Balm.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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Jeni S
Jeni Sabout a year ago

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Kay B
Kay B1 years ago

There are some dentists who threaten to not see the patient anymore if they don't have x-rays done when they're told. If they are the only dentists in the area, how do you respond to them?

Peter N.
Past Member 2 years ago

A responsible dentist will not allow you to have more x-rays than your body can handle, and the amount of radiation you are exposed to is very low. The average person is exposed to more radiation from the sun over a year than from an x-ray.

JL A5 years ago

good to consider

Interstellar Daydreamer
Sky Price5 years ago

Thanks. I got a dental xray from my last dentist trip, and was told I hafta get another that shows the roots better. Lame. I got the xray so I didn't hafta get another.

Anne L.
laurence h5 years ago


Mac C.
mac C5 years ago

My last dentist said if my teeth are fine, there is no need to have x-rays often. I will be very comfortable telling my new dentist not to take unnecessary x-rays. Eager to see how he reacts. I do believe some like to make the extra money from them. Appreciate your article. Thanks.

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants5 years ago

We anteaters have no teeth...

Victor Ryoo
Past Member 5 years ago

Very informative blog from all senses, since it is a well known fact that radiation has always got a side effect, which can be harmful if we are exposed to it frequently. Hence it is better to be careful then never. Also dentist needs to keep in mind that X ray frequency should be minimized for betterment of the patients.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen5 years ago

Thank you :)