How Much Radiation Are Patients Exposed To During Orthodontic Treatment?

Parents and patients occasionally express concerns regarding potential harmful side effects resulting from the use of diagnostic radiographs (“X-rays”). Those who have concerns can rest assured that the manner in which we prescribe and obtain these essential images is with great care and consideration, and has effectively no impact at all on increasing the risk for any known illnesses. But how can we be so sure?

It is a well-documented fact that every human being living on this planet is constantly being exposed to naturally occurring and unavoidable ionizing radiation that emanates from the atmosphere that surrounds us all. The higher up in the atmosphere we go (for instance during airline travel), the greater the amount of natural background radiation we are exposed to.
In terms of amount, on a daily basis just by walking around and being alive on this planet, we all are exposed to roughly 8 µSv of ionizing radiation per day. This equates to approximately 3000 µSv per year. Taking a flight on an airplane from London to Los Angeles (an 11.5 hour flight) exposes the passenger to about 80 µSv due to the time spent in the upper atmosphere.But what about the orthodontic  x-rays we use? Are they emitting  large doses of additional radiation that are going to put us at risk? In a word, no!

The most common image we use in our offices is a 2D Digital Panoramic view. We typically take this film only twice during treatment, once right before treatment begins as part of diagnostic assessment and treatment planning, and then typically only once more during the course of treatment to verify the health of the teeth and bone as treatment progresses. Occasionally we take additional films if there are exceptional circumstances such as impacted teeth, short roots, pathologies or other complex situations requiring close monitoring. We always take as few x-rays as possible, and only do so when the health benefits of knowing  what’s going on underneath the gums is greater than any potential risk of doing so.


Each of these images as taken on our state-of-the art digital machines emits approximately 19 µSv, or the equivalent of 2-3 days of natural background emissions. Put another way, by being alive on this planet, we all receive the equivalent dose of radiation that would be absorbed from about 150 of these digital films per year! Taking a few of these films over the span of several years is therefore not very likely to make a significant impact on one’s health, certainly no more so than taking a brief flight to reach a holiday destination. If you have any questions, our knowledgeable staff are always available to answer any.