Dental X-rays are frequently taken at routine checkups or in between checkups if a patient has a specific dental issue. X-rays of the teeth and mouth allow the dentist to detect cavities or infection of the roots. X-rays show the dentist what cannot be visualized clinically. Checkup x-rays (bitewings) are usually taken once a year and a full set of x-rays is taken once every three years. Panoramic x-rays are usually taken for braces/orthodontics and to visualize wisdom teeth. If a patient has a toothache, broken tooth, or swelling an x-ray is usually taken to determine the cause and treatment. This all sounds good, but then we cover you with a heavy vest and advise pregnant woman to avoid X-rays, which prompts a lot of safety concerns/questions from our patients. Dentists should always have a discussion with patients to explain the risks and benefits of x-rays to determine the lowest exposure for each and every patient.
When any dental x-rays are taken the patient is exposed to radiation. It is common knowledge we want to avoid exposure to radiation as much as possible. However, the reality is we are exposed to radiation everyday, not just during x-rays. Radiation is measured in “rems” and medical/dental radiation is measured in “mrem”, which is one thousandth of a rem. This is a very small amount of radiation exposure and we can compare it to some daily exposures to radiation.
- Watching television/computer averages 1 mrem/year
- Airport scan is 0.001 mrem.
- Average flight from New York to Los Angeles is 4 mrem.
- Sleeping next to someone is 2 mrem/year
- Eating a banana is 0.01 mrem.
- Natural radiation in the human body is 0.04 mrem.
- Smoking one pack of cigarettes/day is 36 mrem/year
- Average chest x-ray is 10 mrem
- Average mammogram is 40 mrem.
- Annual cosmic radiation living in Denver is 50 mrem.
- An average (full body) CT scan is 1000 mrem.
Let us compare this to dental x-rays
- One digital x-ray is 0.1 mrem.
- A set of 4 bitewing x-rays is 0.4 mrem.
- A full mouth set of x-rays is 6 mrem
- Panorex x-ray is 2 mrem
The benefit of dental x-rays far outweigh the risks! Dental x-rays allow us to diagnose a wide range of dental/oral problems including:
- Dental Caries (Decay) that cannot be seen by visual inspection
- Periodontal (Gum) Disease and Bone Loss
- Abscesses & Cysts
- Impacted Teeth
- Fractured Teeth
- Tumors – In some cases, when dental x-rays show the location of tumorous growths, xrays can be responsible for saving your life
It is always important to have a discussion with your dentist to determine the need for your x-rays. While we follow a standard, every individual’s need and risks/benefits differ. The goal is to always expose our patients to the least amount of radiation, while still providing comprehensive and optimal care.