Small amounts of radiation are used to make pictures of teeth. These black and white images show various shades of gray because some portions of the teeth or dental restorations let more or less of the radiation pass through. The result is an x-ray that shows to a moderate level the presence of dental decay. It is nearly impossible to diagnose the presence of dental decay between the teeth without using dental radiographs. By using radiographs, small areas of decay can be identified before the decay process endangers the life of the tooth.
However many people are afraid to use radiation for this purpose. Dental radiographs use a very small amount of radiation and it is directed exactly to the site where it is needed. The amount of radiation required for one dental x-ray, such as a bitewing or periapical, requires about the same amount of radiation as you receive by standing in a parking lot in the sun for a few minutes. In other words, the fear of dental x-rays, which are used with caution and good judgment, is totally unfounded.
The minimal radiation risk present in dental x-rays is far outweighed by the diagnostic advantage provided by the x-rays.