If you’ve ever had a dental x-ray, you’ll know it’s not the most relaxing of procedures (‘and what dental procedure is relaxing?’, I hear you ask). It’s not just the pads, or the lead apron, or placing your head in a contraption that looks like some science fiction torture/mind-reading device. What really worries most people is how the technician scurries to safety behind a screen or into another room before they switch on the machine. So, is a dental x-ray safe, or are there dental x-ray risks you’re not being told about?
The reality is that dental x-rays are completely safe for both adults and children. True, they do involve exposure to radiation, but it is at such low levels (lower than for any other medical imaging) that it has no adverse effects on your health whatsoever.
The only reason the technician is so careful to get out of the way is that they usually conduct several x-rays a day, and frequent exposure to even low levels of radiation will cause health problems. For the average person, who has to undergo the procedure every two or three years or so, these concerns do not apply.
Why are Dental X-Rays Performed?
Dental x-rays are the most efficient way for your dentist to get a clear picture of your overall dental health. A physical examination will not give as clear a picture as there could be problems such as cavities or impacted teeth developing in your mouth that are not visible to the naked eye. That is why dentists will recommend yearly x-rays.
If you are a new patient, your dentist will probably want to x-ray your mouth in order to be able to make an accurate assessment of your overall dental health, especially if you are not in possession of ones from your previous dentist. And if you are being treated for a condition such as impacted teeth or gum disease (gingivitis), you’ll probably need several x-rays over the course of the treatment in order to chart its effectiveness.
Dentists may also want to x-ray the teeth of children more frequently. This is due to the fact that they need to be able to monitor the development of the child’s adult teeth. In this way, they are able to catch any developing problems such as impacted teeth (when there isn’t enough room in the mouth for the wisdom teeth and they come out at an angle) in their early stages.
Dental X-Ray Dangers
As we said, although dental x-rays do involve exposure to radiation, it is at such low levels that it is not considered a medical risk for either children or adults. Even so, your dentist will probably take the added precaution of shielding your chest, abdomen, and pelvic region with a lead bib. A collar should also be used for children and people suffering from a thyroid condition. This is just as an added safety measure based on the principle that it is better to err on the side of caution.
The only exception is pregnant women. There is no established safe level of radiation for fetuses, and that’s a study that is unlikely to be conducted, for obvious reasons. That’s why pregnant women should avoid all types of x-ray. We wrote about proper dental care and pregnancy if you want to know more. So, if you even think you might be pregnant, and your dentist recommends an x-ray, tell them.
And we’ll end on a cautionary note. While biennial (every two years) x-rays do not pose a threat to your health, the cumulative effects of long-term exposure to more frequent x-rays have been linked to certain types of brain tumors, especially in children who were initially exposed under the age of ten. This is a long-term effect, so if you have to have several x-rays over the course of a six-month treatment, you have nothing to worry about. Just don’t accept that your dentist gives you an x-ray every time you have a toothache.
If you have any uncertainties or doubts about dental x-rays or dental problems in general, feel free to reach out to us at Doral Sedation, because we are happy to answer all your questions. So, call us, today, to make an appointment!