Although there is no hard and fast universal rule for everyone, the answer according to the American dental association’s published guidelines is that in each case the decision should be made dependent on how likely a patient is at risk for dental disease..

A lot of dental patients are asking how often should they have dental x-rays,especially since a new article was published in the American Cancer Society Online Journal in April 2012. The Washington post ran an article about this study and it reported that:

“The study found at a general level that people with meningioma were more than twice as likely as people without the brain tumor to have had a bitewing X-ray sometime in their life. For a bitewing X-ray, the patient holds the film in place by biting down on a tab.

The exposures to dental X-rays in the study took place in the 1960s, when dental X-rays delivered higher doses of radiation than today’s do. The study compared the self-reported dental X-ray histories of 1,433 adults who had been diagnosed with the tumor with 1,350 who had not.

The study also found an association between the less commonly used panorex X-rays, which are taken outside the mouth and deliver a panoramic view of the full set of top and bottom teeth, and meningioma risk.”

This study had some flaws. It used information on prior X=rays from the memories of the participants. Also participants had received higher levels of dental radiation than would be expected today since most dental practices are using digital radiation sensors. Digital X-rays require far lower radiation levels than do the older films that were used in the 1960’s

That being said, how often should dental radiographs be taken? In our office the decision on whether we should take dental x-rays is made more or less according to American Dental Association guidelines*:

For New Patients The ADA guidelines suggest:

For New Patients:

A full series radiographic exam for a patient who has clinical evidence of generalized dental disease or a history of extensive dental treatments.

Individualized radiographic exam consisting posterior bitewings and a panorex or individualized periapical images for adult patients without a history of extensive dental treatment or generalized dental disease

For Recall patients:

Children: Bitewings every 6- 24 month intervals depending on their risk for dental caries

Adolescents: Bitewings every 6-36 months depending on their risk for dental caries

Adults: Bitewings every 6-36 months depending on their risk for dental caries

*In general, most patients do have a history of dental disease or are at some risk for decay. In general we recommend that most adults have bitewing radiographs taken every 12-24 months. We discuss the recommended frequency with each patient before making a decision. In our opinion taking bitewings every three years places most patients at greater risk for developing large carious lesions that may require more extensive dental treatments.