What is the Role of the Dental Assistant in Dental Radiography?

The dental assistant is often the second touchpoint for a patient in a dental clinic – right after check-in at reception. The assistant can prepare the patient and equipment before the dentist enters the room. In many practices, the assistant takes on dental radiography as well. They prepare patients for X-rays, follow safety protocols, and educate patients on the purpose of radiography. 

Here’s how a dental assistant helps with radiology and why they need to be knowledgeable about the process.

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The Use of Radiography in the Dental Practice 

Dental radiography involves taking X-rays of your teeth. The technology creates a contrast between bone and teeth so that dentists can gain a clear picture of a patient’s mouth. It has been implemented widely in the dental industry because it is a vital part of the patient record and identifies areas in need of care and attention. 

Preparing the Dental Patient for Radiography

The dental assistant is the primary party in charge of preparing patients for dental radiography. This role includes: 

  • Performing equipment checks
  • Double-checking orders
  • Educating patients
  • Physical preparation
  • Reviewing the results

Equipment Checks 

Equipment must function correctly during the exam. The film should be preloaded for efficiency, and any pieces that come in contact with the patient should be thoroughly sanitized. 

Order Verification 

Unnecessary radiation exposure can be dangerous, so radiography should only be done when necessary. This means double-checking orders to ensure the correct radiographs are being taken. 

Educating Patients 

Before starting any radiography, the patient should know about the process. They should know it is not painful, but the patient will have to bite film holders and hold their breath during the process.

Patients will likely ask assistants questions about the procedures, especially about whether the procedure is safe. Patients have a right to know about the minimal radiation exposure during an X-ray and what the benefit is. Informed patients tend to be more cooperative. 


In addition, assistants should screen patients for any health risks. While these risks are low, they increase for patients under 30 and pregnant women. People with toothaches may also be unable to bite the film holder. 

Physical Preparation 

The key behind successful radiography is communication. For example, the patient may have to sit or stand, remove jewelry or glasses, and stay still. They will also need to wear lead aprons or neck collars, which should be communicated and positioned in advance. 

Can Dental Assistants Expose Radiographs?

After the images are taken, assistants can expose the radiographs. This saves the dentist’s time and ensures the images are clear and usable before moving the patient to the next step. Anything distorted or unusable will have to be retaken. 

Radiography Certification for Dental Assistants

Dental radiography is becoming increasingly popular in clinics, especially in their digital format. As a result, many schools are offering certification programs designed for dental assistants. It may also be included in expanded functions programs. These programs teach students how to work with digital systems and develop this marketable skill.

Bottom Line

If you’re interested in becoming a dental assistant, we recommend choosing a program that offers training in radiology. If you graduated from a program that did not offer radiology training, you can pursue a certificate and boost your expertise.