Are Dental X-Rays Safe?
Dental x-rays, or radiographs, are a diagnostic tool used to visualise all parts of a tooth and surrounding bone to detect disease and to discuss treatment options with patients. Though their usefulness in dentistry is undisputed and technology has made it easier than ever to take x-rays, there are still those who are against taking them because they perceive them as being “unsafe”. Today, we will be putting that thought to rest.
What are x-rays used to show?
Without dental x-rays, the detection of interproximal (between contacting teeth) tooth decay, decay under an existing filling, bone loss caused by periodontal disease, developing oral pathology such as cysts and tumours of the jaw, developmental abnormalities in children, and impacted teeth would not be properly visualised. Additionally, x-rays show the position of anatomical structures such as the maxillary sinuses and inferior dental nerve so that procedures such as dental implant or extractions can be done safely.
What are the different types of x-rays?
Though many different types of dental x-rays, bitewings, periapical, and panoramic x-rays are most common.
Bitewing x-rays are used to detect decay between posterior teeth (premolars and molars). Periapical x-rays are useful when focusing on one or two teeth and trying to visualise their roots. Panoramic x-rays show all teeth in the oral cavity in one image along with the maxillary and mandibular jaws and are the best x-ray for visualising cysts and tumours of the jaw.
How safe are dental x-rays?
As a type of ionising radiation, people claim that dental x-rays are unsafe because they can cause cancer. However, the truth is that we are exposed to ionising radiation as we go about our daily lives with the amount of natural radiation totaling about 3.1 millisieverts (mSv) every year. In dentistry, a bitewing or periapical x-ray exposes you to approximately 0.005 mSv, less than 1.6% of your daily background exposure or the amount of radiation that you get from sunlight each day, a constant source of radiation exposure as compared to x-rays which are taken periodically.
The levels of radiation exposure in dentistry are so low that it is safe for adults and children, especially when you consider that tools and techniques are used that ensure that patient exposure to radiation is as low as reasonably achievable (the ALARA principle). This includes the use of the lead apron and leaded thyroid collar which are placed over the chest, abdomen, pelvic region, and thyroid and which the Australian Dental Association has stated makes x-rays safe for even pregnant patients at any stage during the pregnancy. Additionally, as dental offices become more modernised, the use of digital x-rays as opposed to traditional film x-rays means that patients are exposed to between 80-90% less radiation.
X-rays and you
Though there is still some hesitancy surrounding dental x-rays, their benefits for early detection of oral disease and crucial role in maintaining oral health far outweigh any reservations that a patient may have.
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