Answer to Question #13077 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Dental

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


Computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacture (Cad/Cam) digital dentistry offers intraoral scanning resulting in 3-D imaging of the teeth and oral areas. I assumed there was no radiation involved in this procedure but I think there may be and that it may be to a greater degree than regular digital dental x rays. Is there a high radiation exposure risk from having a Cad/Cam intraoral scan performed?


This is an emerging technology as many dentists are transitioning to digital intraoral optical scanning to replace "analog" impression techniques such as alginates, etc., in order to fabricate study models and dental restorations. In short, there is no risk from performing an intraoral scan. Below, I'll explain why that is the case.

You mention the term radiation. I am going to assume that by radiation, you mean ionizing radiation, such as x rays. How one defines radiation is extremely important, since the term radiation may mean different things to different people. For instance, the light we receive every day from the sun (and the moon) is radiation. Radio signals that enable our car radios to play music or receive the play-by-play for our favorite sports team is radiation. These are all forms of electromagnetic radiation. The only difference between the radiation emitted by microwaves, cell towers, television antennas, the sun, x-ray generators, or even nuclear power plants is how much energy is in the electromagnetic waves that travel through space from the source to the receptor.

Radio waves and light waves contain relatively little energy. X rays, on the other hand, are a form of ionizing radiation, which means that these "radiation waves" are higher energy than light waves.

To get back to your question, what about the risk with intraoral digital optical scans? These scans are made with visible light radiation, not x-ray radiation. When compared to x-ray exposures, there is no risk with intraoral digital optical scans since the energy levels of the electromagnetic radiation are so low that there is no known risk to biologic tissues. Think of it like this: Do you take pictures of your family and friends with your smart phone, or digital camera? What is the radiation risk to your friends when you are taking those pictures? There is no risk. If there were, all the camera manufacturers would have stopped manufacturing cameras long ago due to the liability risk. Your dentist or assistant and/or hygienist is using visible light technology, the very same technology used in regular camera technology, when they are using the intraoral digital optical scanner to scan your mouth.

I hope this review of radiation and specifically the radiation used to capture intraoral digital scans has been helpful.

Jeffery B. Price, DDS, MS
Clinical Professor and Director of Oral Radiology

Answer posted on 4 January 2020. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.