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Are dental x-rays dangerous?

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Whenever a person goes to a dentist, the dentist asks to submit to more dental X-rays, and many people get frustrated with that. It might have happened with you too and you must have gotten annoyed with it. Beyond annoyance, it is also worrisome for people because X-rays are known to be damaging to the body. But the question arises how often is it okay for a person to get dental X-rays?

Unfortunately the answer is not simply a yes or no, and also isn’t the same for everyone. It depends on various factors:

  • The amount of dental treatment you have had in the past
  • The current condition of that treatment
  • Your dental hygiene
  • Signs or symptoms of tooth decay or gum disease
  • Age as the risk of oral problems differ with age

This is a very tough decision and dental X-ray must be patient-specific and risk based.

Dental X-rays are necessary for the identification of hidden dental decay, like in the areas between teeth or underneath old fillings and crowns. Moreover they also reveal bone loss that can lead to gum disease. This information helps the dentist decide which treatment must be given to the patient. The earlier the problem is detected the more the chances of saving it or limiting the amount of restoration required.

But as everything has its advantages and disadvantages so does the dental X-rays. The X-ray radiations passed through can pose a potential risk to the patients. And for this reason you must minimize its usage as much as possible.

There is a general principal in radiation safety known as ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable). According to this principal a dentist must prescribe the least amount of radiation to perform a specific job like monitoring or diagnosing a certain disease.

To help dentists making this decision, a few professional organizations have set up a list of general rules on when X-ray needs to be taken. For example one rule set out by organizations is that an adult with good oral health and who is at a lower risk of dental problems may get X-ray done within 24 to 36 months.

Nevertheless these set of rules must not be blindly followed by the dentist. So now whenever you want to get a dental X-ray done, first let the dentist perform a clinical exam. This helps in ensuring whether dental X-ray is important or not by the help of dentist’s professional judgement.

The decision on performing a dental X-ray or not must depend on the each case. Some adult patients have X-rays done after every five years, while the other have it done after two years or less.

Before getting to any conclusion we must keep in mind that natural radiation is all around us. This radiation is either from the outer space or from a few elements in the earth that release radioactive particles. On an average a person receives 3,000 to 4,000 Sieverts of radiation every year.

On the other hand, a dental X-ray performed with a fast-speed film or digital imaging releases only eight to nine micro-Sieverts of radiation. If performed with a slower speed film releases double the amount of radiation. This type of X-ray shows many teeth, including the upper surface and the supporting bone.

There is even panoramic X-rays that show the complete mouth area, including all the teeth in upper and lower jaw areas. This type of X-ray releases 24 micro-Sieverts of radiation.

So be it any kind of X-ray, the radiation released by them is very small as compared to the radiation we receive from natural background sources. But that doesn’t imply that dentists can set the frequency of X-ray radiation more than that required for the patient diagnosis because we can never predict which radiation from which source can damage the genetic structure of a cell and trigger cancer.

Therefore some dental cares take precautionary measures like placing lead aprons and neck collars on patients when taking X-ray.

Patients on the other hand are advised to question their dentist whenever they have any query or doubt. For example if a person feels that he/she might be having too many X-rays then he/she must consult their dentist and discuss its impacts on their care. And if they aren’t satisfied with the answer then they have all the right to say no to X-rays.

 

 

May 18, 2017

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Dental is part of the Medical News Group of publications which in 1968 became the pioneer of medical journalism in Pakistan. Medical News is the only periodical in Pakistan which has 3 simultaneous editions from Karachi, Islamabad and online.

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