What’s the deal with dental x-ray radiation? Are dental x-rays safe?
Yes, dental x-rays are safe. Some of our patients don’t want to have x-rays during routine checkups because they are concerned about radiation, while others want to avoid routine x-rays to save money. We’d like to set your mind at ease about both of these concerns and explain why periodic dental x-rays are a necessary part of your oral health plan and essential to avoiding unnecessary dental expenses in the future.
How often do I need dental x-rays?Most people need cavity-checking x-rays once a year. For these x-rays, we take two to four individual x-rays of the patient's teeth. These small x-rays are called bitewings, and they're the ones you bite down on a plastic frame that holds x-ray film. For adults, we also take a full series of x-rays or a Panorex (the machine that makes a half-circle around your head when it's taking the x-ray) every 5 years. These radiographs show us all of the teeth and allow Dr. Welch to screen for gum disease, abscesses, and any tumors that can hide below what we can see on the bitewings.
What safety procedures do you follow for doing x-rays?You can be assured that we do not perform unnecessary x-rays, and when we make x-ray images of your teeth, we ensure that all safety procedures are followed. We’ll cover your body with a lead bib and a thyroid shield, which block x-rays from penetrating any other part of your body. And, following the ADA and FDA’s recommended ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle, we only take the x-rays that are needed to ensure your optimal oral health.
How much radiation do x-rays expose me to?Dental x-rays deliver the least radiation of any medical x-rays – 2-4 images of your back teeth deliver .005 millisieverts of radiation. In comparison, the average North American is exposed to 3.1 millisieverts annually from natural sources.
Today’s conventional x-ray machines use high-speed film, reducing your exposure to radiation. Some dentists – like Dr. Welch – use digital x-rays, which emit approximately 80% less radiation than conventional machines. Even our Panorex machine, which makes a panoramic picture of the bones in upper and lower jaws, is a digital machine.
If you are undergoing radiation therapy for cancer or other conditions, or if you’ve had multiple x-rays recently for any other reason, please let your doctor and dentist know so we can help you limit your necessary exposure.
Are dental x-rays safe for pregnant or nursing women?Pregnant women should skip x-rays in most cases, although most experts say that standard diagnostic x-rays during pregnancy are safe. Repeated exposure to radiation during gestation can damage the developing child’s cells, which in turn may increase the likelihood of cancer occurring during childhood. While the risk is virtually non-existant that a developing fetus could receive damaging exposure to radiation when you get a typical dental x-ray, we prefer not to take the risk. That said, if you do have a serious dental emergency that requires x-rays while you are pregnant, we will take all possible precautions to shield your developing child from exposure to radiation.
Women who are trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding need not delay x-rays. If you know there’s a good chance that you are pregnant, please let us know so we can take proper precautions.
Why should I get dental x-rays?
Sure, we can spot a great many dental problems by observation and exploration of the mouth, teeth, and gums. However, x-rays are essential when we design and prepare implants, dentures, and braces, as well as perform some dental procedures. In addition, dental x-rays are a powerful diagnostic tool that show dentists many problems that aren’t visible to the naked eye.