Dental X-rays

What are dental X-rays?

Dental X-rays are the most common form of imaging in medicine and use low levels of ionising radiation.

X-rays are usually very quick exams and having one will feel very similar to having a photograph taken.

What information is obtained?

There are many reasons your dentist may require you to have a dental X-ray for example:

1) to get a better idea of the position of your teeth that are not fully visible;

2) to check for tooth decay and the condition of fillings;

3) for orthodontic planning;

4) to examine lumps and tumours.

Your dentist should discuss with you the reason for the X-ray and what they hope to gain from it. Before your X-ray goes ahead the dentist, as a registered healthcare professional, will have looked through your medical history. They will only X-ray you if they need more information.

Types of dental X-rays


  • The most common type.

  • The X-ray detector is placed inside your mouth and X-ray tube placed close to your face.

  • Good for identifying tooth decay and gum disease.

  • Good for looking at the condition of fillings.

  • Can lead to a negligible risk of cancer.

  • Risk less than 1 in 1 000 000.


  • Include Cone Beam CT (CBCT) and OPG, which stands for a orthopantomogram and sometimes cephalometric (CEPH) projections.

  • There is no detector placed in your mouth.

  • Good for looking at the positions of teeth and also tumours.

  • Generally higher dose than intraoral exams but more information is gained as a result.

  • The risks of extraoral imaging are low.

  • Risk less than 1 in 10 000.

What do I need to know?

This video details the process involved in an X-ray, what to expect and information around the risks involved.

Take away points:

  • The risks of dental imaging are low.

  • X-rays do not hurt.

  • The information gained will be used to help improve your oral health.

  • If you would like to find out more about the risks of dental X-rays please follow this link.

Patient shielding

In the past you may have been given a lead apron or small shields for a certain body part during an x-ray. Recent science shows that this is usually not necessary due to improvements in technology and scientific knowledge.

Therefore, you may notice that you are no longer offered shielding where you previously were. If you would like more information on why this change has happened you can find it in the document "Guidance on using contact shielding on patients for diagnostic radiology applications" (BIR).


  • Dental X-rays will only be used if a healthcare professional can show that the benefit to you is greater than the risk (justified).

  • X-rays do not hurt.

  • The equipment will be maintained to reduce the dose to keep the dose and risk to you as low as possible.

  • The individual carrying out the imaging will be trained to keep the dose and risk to you as low as possible.

  • If you have any more questions please ask a healthcare professional.

If you'd like to find out more about the risks of dental X-rays, there is more information within the 'Radiation Risk' section.