But…Are Dental X-Rays Really Safe?

Jamie J. Alexander on July 11, 2017

We know you are concerned about the short term and accumulative effect of radiation exposure. You may be wondering about the impact dental x-ray radiation exposure may have on your long-term health, that of your fetus if you are pregnant, and on your growing children. Boynton Beach dentist Dr. Jamie J. Alexander hopes this blog will answer your questions and put dental x-rays into perspective.

The Ins and Outs of Dental X-Ray Radiation Exposure

Repeated ionic x-ray radiation exposure from medical imaging such as x-rays, fluoroscopy, computed tomography (CT) and nuclear medicine scans can accumulate over time to cancer-causing doses. Your health care providers are ethically bound to evaluate and weigh the benefits of imaging against the risks. You have a responsibility for informing your health care providers, including your dentist, about your medical history and any substantial x-ray radiation exposure done through image processing.

You can view a chart available from the Harvard Medical School that will help you see the average radiation dose and range of radiation associated with various tests. A regular set of dental x-rays, involving four bite-wing images, exposes you to about 0.005 mSv.

You may have read that a set of four bite-wing x-rays exposes you at about the same level as a plane flight of four hours, and less than the radiation you are exposed to by the natural environment over 2 to 3 days. If we are realistic, though, this daily dose of background radiation is not focused on a specific area of the body. So, patients also wonder if dental x-rays contribute to cancers of the mouth, brain, and thyroid. It is difficult to answer this question.

Studies indicate higher risk among tumor patients self-reporting their lifetime number of radiographic images, but a causal relationship has not been clearly demonstrated. The patients’ recollection of how many radiographs they had had during their lifetime included older x-ray technology and panorex images with higher radiation exposure. As a profession and evidence-based medical community, we will learn more from additional studies as time goes on to help us weigh the risks and benefits of today’s low-radiation digital dental imaging.

The good news is that the digital dental x-ray technology we use in our practice has sensors that are so responsive to low radiation that you are exposed to far less radiation than with the old film-based radiography. The dose you receive is about 10% of the old systems. And, you may not need to have dental x-rays every year, or even every two years.

When you come to Jamie J. Alexander, D.D.S., your oral health care is individualized. Based on your dental records, when you last had intra-oral x-rays, and if you have current oral health problems to be diagnosed, he decides if x-rays will be beneficial and will outweigh concerns about accumulative radiation over your lifetime. If he recommends one or more x-rays, you still have the choice to say yes or no. We make all our recommendations and decisions on an individualized basis, not simply generic “guidelines”.

Are dental x-rays essential for a diagnosis of oral health problems?

Yes, they are. Our digital x-rays help us find cavities, periodontal disease, abscesses, and abnormal growths. They are essential for determining the exact position of tooth roots and any impacted teeth in your bone tissue. They also aid in diagnosing conditions of jaw joints. Dentists save thousands of patients’ teeth (and even lives each year) by diagnosing tooth pulp infections, periodontal abscesses, and tumors. Determining the position of tooth roots, the location of impacted teeth, jaw bone density and volume, and jaw joint health are all dependent on imaging. Optimal and ethical treatment planning for orthodontics, TMD/TMJ therapy, extraction of teeth, root canal therapy, dental implants, restoration of diseased or damaged teeth, and of course, biopsy and treatment of bone cancers is made possible by radiographic imaging. The advancement and adoption of digital x-ray technology make it safer than ever to have the oral health, function, and appearance that will improve your quality of life for the years to come. This technology and other technologies have made dentistry more predictably successful and long lasting than ever before.

Many considerations go into your personalized care, including prudent decisions about ionizing radiation exposure. Dr. Alexander stays abreast of the latest in scientific evidence and follows guidelines set by The American Dental Association (ADA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the safest frequency, type and number of x-rays based on your age, oral health risk factors, medical history, and time passed since your last x-rays. Dental x-rays are avoided during pregnancy unless there is a special circumstance warranting a detailed diagnosis that cannot wait.

Dr. Alexander is happy to converse about this subject with you when you visit for your next appointment. Is it time to see the dentist again? Don’t delay and give Boynton Beach dentist Dr. Jamie J. Alexander a call today — (561) 459-8317.