If you’ve ever been to the dentist, you probably have had dental radiographs, known better as x-rays. There’s that little sensor attached to a stick, which gets placed in your mouth as you bite down to hold it in place. Sometimes a little uncomfortable, these x-rays provide important information about your oral health.
While the benefits of dental x-rays are many, let’s discuss a few of the big ones. Tooth decay that is not visible to the naked eye can be seen clearly. Periodontal disease, resulting in loss of the bone holding the teeth in place, is also diagnosed from x-rays. Lastly, many dangerous and painful infections can be seen on x-rays showing the roots of the teeth. Without x-rays, a dentist cannot legally treat you.
How often should you be getting x-rays?
Every person is different. A general rule of thumb is that bitewing x-rays should be taken every year and a full series of x-rays or a panoramic x-ray should be taken every 3-5 years. This can vary greatly depending on the patient. For those fortunate people who have never had a cavity, x-rays can be taken every 2-3 years. For those with a history of dental issues, more frequent x-rays are recommended.
How much radiation am I getting and is it safe?
The short answer is yes, dental x-rays are safe. Now let’s be more specific. Digital x-rays produce about 90% less radiation than traditional dental x-rays. Each digital x-ray gives off about 5-6 μSv (microSieverts) of radiation. Let’s compare it to other sources of radiation in our life:
Cross country flight from New York to Los Angeles = 40 μSv (roughly the equivalent of 4 bitewing/check-up dental x-rays)
Smoking ½ pack of cigarettes = 80 μSv
Chest x-ray = 100μSv
Eating a banana = 0.1 μSv
Living at sea level = 250 μSv per year
Living in Denver = 500 μSv per year
As you can see, radiation is all around us. In the grand scheme of life, dental x-rays make up a tiny amount of the yearly radiation exposure. But does all this radiation mean something terrible, like cancer, will develop from it? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if a person is exposed to greater than 100,000 μSv per year, there is a small increased risk in getting cancer. That’s the equivalent of about 1,000 full sets of dental x-rays (18 x-rays), or almost 3 sets per day for the year.
The bottom line is that dental x-rays are safe and provide necessary information for your dentist to take exceptional care of your oral health. Even pregnant women can have dental x-rays safely if needed (see this blog post for more information about pregnancy and dental appointments). If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your dentist about the benefits of routine dental x-rays at your next visit.
Need to see a dentist? Dr. David Scardella of Center for Progressive Dentistry in Duxbury, MA is accepting new patients. Browse our website, take a virtual tour of the office, read patient reviews and testimonials, and request an appointment today! 781-934-9444