How Safe Are Your Dental X-Rays?

5 months ago

Healthy Smiles By Rita Tempel, DDS – This column was published in the Gettysburg Times on Feb. 18, 2021.

Have you ever questioned the safety of your dental x-rays? If so, you are not alone. It’s a common question, and I hope to set your mind at ease through today’s column. Let’s debunk the myths!

First, let me assure you that dental x-rays are considered safe.

According to the American Dental Association, the amount of radiation used in dental x-rays is very small: “Bitewing radiographs—two to four images of the back teeth—expose a patient to about 0.005 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation (a millisievert is a unit of measure). By comparison, because radiation is part of our environment, people in the United States are exposed, on average, to 3.2 mSv every year from background sources of radiation.” One common source is radon from the earth.

I recently took a CE course on radiation, and I was surprised to learn that smokers experience radiation from smoking. Smokers who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for a year experience .36 millisieverts of radiation. As you can see, that is a much higher level—60% higher—than dental x-rays!

Let’s dive a little deeper into research from the CDC, for comparison’s sake. Smoking causes radioactive substances polonium-210 and lead-210 to accumulate in the lungs of smokers for decades. Meantime, sticky tar in the tobacco builds up in the small air passageways known as bronchioles in the lungs, and as a result, the radioactive substances get trapped. It’s the accumulation of these substances over time that can lead to lung cancer. 

Whether you are a smoker or not, it’s clear to see that smoking carries a much higher health risk compared to dental x-rays.

Why are dental x-rays considered necessary? The benefits are many! X-rays are some of the most helpful diagnostic tools that help your dentist see any of the following:

  • Cavities
  • Tooth decay between the teeth or under fillings, which could lead to cavities
  • Periodontal (gum) disease
  • Infections under your gums
  • Some types of tumors
  • Other issues not visible to the human eye during a regular dental exam

If you are seeing a dentist for the first time, he or she will likely recommend x-rays to establish a baseline for your dental health, followed by x-rays on a regular basis every several years, depending on your oral health.

What safety measures are taken during dental x-rays? The low incidences of radiation during dental x-rays are reduced by numerous safety measures taken by your dentist:

  • By using the fastest imaging possible
  • By reducing the size of the x-ray beam to the image receptor
  • By using leaded aprons and thyroid collars during x-rays

I hope this information alleviates any concerns you may have. If you have any additional concerns or questions about x-rays, please talk to your dental health care professionals. Wishing you excellent x-rays and dental health!

Dr. Rita Tempel is an Accredited Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and owner of Gettysburg Smiles Cosmetic & Family Dentistry as well as a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and owner of Sweet Dreams Gettysburg, 2018 York Road, Gettysburg. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com, follow @ritatempeldds on Instagram, or like her Facebook page @Gettysburgsmiles or call 717-339-0033.

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