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Science in the News

A Recent Article in the New York Times Provides Insights while Raising Unwarranted Concerns about Overuse of X-rays by Dentists

July 28, 2016 A recent article in the New York Times1 provides readers with the useful insight that dental X-rays are likely not required at every visit to the dentist.  However, the alarm set off about overuse of X-rays by dentists is unwarranted.

Dentists use X-rays to help diagnose damage and disease that is not visible during a regular dental examination. How often X-rays should be taken depends on specific factors such as an individual’s current oral health, age, risk for disease and any signs or symptoms of oral disease.  This means that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the interval between dental X-rays.  Dentists adhere to the “ALARA” principle, a phrase coined 1973 by the International Commission on Radiologic Protection that stands for “As Low as Reasonably Achievable.”  This means that dentists take precautions2 to ensure that:
  • all X-ray exposures are justified in relation to their benefits;
  • necessary exposures are kept as low as reasonably achievable (i.e., ALARA); and
  • the doses received by patients and personnel are kept well below the allowable limits.
The most recent guidelines from the American Dental Association, which were created in collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,  outline recommended frequency for X-rays depending on patient age (i.e., children, adolescents, adults), risk factors (e.g., cavities, periodontal disease), and other considerations unique to the individual in the dental chair.3  The ADA encourages dentists and patients to discuss dental treatment recommendations, including the need for X-rays, in order to make informed decisions together.


  1. Frakt A. You Probably Don't Need Dental X-rays Every Year. New York Times. July 25, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2016.
  2. American Dental Association. X-Rays. September 2017. Accessed October 10, 2017.
  3. American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dental Radiographic Examinations: Recommendations for Patient Selection and Limiting Radiation Exposure.  2012. Accessed July 28, 2016.

Prepared by: Center for Scientific Information, ADA Science Institute

About Science in the News

Science in the News is a service by the American Dental Association (ADA) to its members to present current information about science topics in the news. The ADA is a professional association of dentists committed to the public's oral health, ethics, science and professional advancement; leading a unified profession through initiatives in advocacy, education, research and the development of standards. As a science-based organization, the ADA's evaluation of the scientific evidence may change as more information becomes available. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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