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Are dental x-rays harmful?

Are Dental X-Rays HarmfulDental x-rays are considered a routine part of professional oral care and are generally not considered harmful. The level of radiation used to take the pictures is very low, and in many cases the dentist does not need to see a full set of x-rays more often than once every few years.

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Although dental x-rays are considered safe, women of childbearing years will be asked if they are pregnant or think they may be before the images are taken. Dental x-rays are considered safe during pregnancy but, unless they are absolutely necessary, a pregnant woman should hold off on having the procedure done until after the baby is born.

As with all medical issues that come up during pregnancy, the potential benefit must be carefully weighted against the risk it presents to the mother and the baby.

Overview of Dental X-rays

When visiting a dentist, it’s not uncommon for dental x-rays to be ordered. This non-invasive procedure provides the dentist with information about the condition of the patient’s teeth, gums and jaw. If the patient is visiting the dentist for a specific concern, the dentist may wish to take x-rays to help diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan.

The x-ray is performed while the patient is sitting upright in a dental chair. He or she will be draped with a lead apron that is equipped with a collar that serves to protect the thyroid gland from being exposed to radiation. During the procedure, the patient will be asked to bite down on a piece of plastic or cardboard.

The images will be available for the dentist to review in a few minutes. The x-rays provide more information about the patient’s teeth than relying solely on a visual exam to diagnose health issues.

What Dental X-rays are Used For

Dental x-rays are used to detect a number of health concerns, including cavities, malignant tumors, and bone loss. The x-ray is also used to determine the position of wisdom teeth as they grow in during young adulthood. Tooth decay, infections and periodontal disease can also be detected using this diagnostic technique.

The procedure can also determine if the patient has sustained any dental injuries resulting in problems like broken tooth roots. Cysts and abscesses can also be detected by using an x-ray. The x-rays are also used to help make a treatment plan for major dental procedures, such as root canals and dental implants.

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Dental X-rays and Your Health

Dental x-rays do expose a patient to radiation, but the level is considered safe. The average full x-ray performed on the mouth region delivers a total of 18 mREM (one 1 mREM for each image taken).

It’s important to keep in mind that humans are exposed to radiation on a regular basis. This background radiation adds up to approximately 360 mREM annually. Flying on a plane is a common way to travel, but every time a person gets on board, he or she is exposed to a higher level of radiation than they would be if they stayed on the ground. Just venturing outside exposes humans to radiation from the sun’s rays.

Other common sources of radiation in everyday life include:

  • Cooking with a natural gas stove
  • People who live or work in brick buildings
  • Sharing a bed with a partner is a source of low-level radiation (the amount of exposure for each person is 2mREM per year)
  • The foods we eat also contain small amounts of radiation

According to the Washington State Department of Health, the maximum safe level of radiation exposure per year is 5,000 mREM. Many dentists only take a full set of x-rays of their patients’ teeth every three to five years. Children may need to have images done yearly to keep track the development of their teeth and to detect cavities and other dental issues.

To get to a level that is considered harmful, a patient would have to be subjected to many more dental x-rays than what is recommended or necessary to provide a good level of care. Dental x-rays are not considered harmful, and they are an effective tool to detect conditions requiring treatment before they become apparent visually. A person who is seeking dental care should not hesitate to have dental x-rays done. In the case of a pregnant woman, routine x-rays can wait until after delivery unless there is an urgent need for the information the images can provide.

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