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Do I Really Have to Get Dental X-rays…Again? Why? Are They Risky?

Sable DDS Xray

Dental radiographs (x-rays) allow us to monitor bone levels and rule out any disease processes that might be occurring. Radiographs allow us to see structures that are not visible to the naked eye – the spaces between teeth, under the soft tissue, and inside the bone.  All of this really, really helps us work with you on your oral health, especially to diagnosis any potential “danger zones!” In fact, without x-rays, we cannot detect:

  • Cavities
  • Periodontal Disease
  • Infections and Abscesses
  • Cysts
  • Tumors
  • Cancer

In fact, one of the most important uses of radiographs is to allow us to compare a current x-ray to a previous one.  This comparison, side-by-side, helps identify any changes from the previous period.  The comparison is important, because it tells us not only what is going on with the teeth on that day, but also the rate of change from the previous period.  A slow rate of change, even if not in a positive direction, may allow us to be more conservative in treatment.  A faster rate of change may indicate a need to treat in a more aggressive manner.

The American Dental Association recommends that bite-wing oral radiographs are updated annually, and panoramic radiograph (or full mouth intraoral series) updated every three years, to provide for optimal oral care and accurate diagnosis.  However, for patients with any risk factors or significant dental work, we may recommend panoramic x-rays to be done annually.

So, even with all that, you may be thinking right now “What about the radiation?”  Are you subjecting me to unnecessary or excessive radiation with dental x-rays?

The clear and definitive answer is NO.

If you have wondered about this or expressed this to us in the last few years, you are not alone.  We want to let you know that we take your concerns seriously.  We are also hearing new and erroneous theories on radiation exposure from dental x-rays.  So, to help get you up to (x-ray) speed, we want to share a quick science lesson:

Radiation dosage is measured in units called millirems (mrem).  According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) U.S. residents, on average, receive 620 mrem every year, with approximately one-half coming from background sources like outer space, radioactive materials in the earth, small amounts of radioactive material in foods and products that we use, etc.  The other half come from exposure to mrem in medical procedures. In general, according to the USNRC, a yearly dose of 620 millirem from all radiation sources has not been shown to cause humans any harm.

A typical digital dental x-ray (the kind we take) exposes a patient to less than 0.5 mrem.  This compares to mrem of 10, 60 and 72 for chest, abdomen, and mammogram x-rays, respectively.  So as you can see, the relatively small amount of mrem from dental x-rays illustrates the American Dental Association’s confidence in the safety of this very important diagnostic tool.  And as I mentioned before, without x-rays, we cannot identify disease processes that pose risks to your dental and overall health.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding dental radiographs (x-rays), please call the office and ask Dr. Sable to call you to address them. We care about more than your dental health, we care about YOU!

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