Dental X-Rays and Radiation
Dental X-Rays, The Stigma
There has been a lot of “facts” thrown around, often without proper knowledge on the subject, about the radiation involved in taking dental x-rays. That is, there are some misconceptions that I want to help clear up about dental x-rays, their purpose, the frequency of which they should be taken, and also a small comparison between digital and film dental x-rays.
First off, let us talk about the stigma associated with x-rays in general: radiation. Radiation usually brings to the mind some pretty bad things. We may think of atomic bombs, cancer, sickness etc. when we think of radiation. But radiation also has some pretty beneficial applications. Namely, using x-rays to help diagnose many medical and dental problems and therefore work towards handling whatever it is that is causing the problems.
The amount of radiation received from having dental x rays taken is actually pretty small in the broad scheme of things. The unit for measurement for radiation is a millisievert (mSv). In dentistry you could be possibly looking at around 0.040 from bitewing x-rays (4 x-rays taken around the the molars), and about 0.150 from a full mouth x-ray (a type of x-ray used to check all of the teeth in the mouth). Now these numbers are pretty pointless to know unless you know some other facts. One of which is that on average, any US citizen receives about 3.00 mSv just from living in the country, from natural sources, in a year. About another .50 mSv per year if you live in Denver, Co. due to the elevation and the fact that you are closer to space. Even flying cross-country can give you more than the accumulated radiation you get in a years time from natural sources (https://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/faqs/commercialflights.html). Actually this is a good link if you want to find out just what things do give you radiation in your daily life: http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/life-is-rad.
You receive even less radiation from digital dental x-rays. Often by as much as 80%. This is partially due to the fact that the exposure time for taking digital dental x-rays is often much less than what is needed for film.
Frequency and Use of Dental X-Rays
The reason dentist take x-rays is not to make you feel uncomfortable, it is to help diagnose oral health conditions, sometimes very serious ones. Health conditions such as abscesses, dental carries, infected roots and bone loss around the teeth due to gum disease.
Bitewing dental x-rays are usually done about 1 time a year. Full mouth series dental x-rays are done (usually) once every 3-5 years. The reason the bitewing x-rays are done once per year is that they cover the area most prone (as we chew most of our food with them, and they are more difficult to clean) to dental caries (cavities), the molars. The full mouth x-rays do not need to be done as often.
X-rays are a diagnostic tool. They help prevent and detect health problems in an individual. In my opinion, fear of the small amount of radiation you get from a set of 4 x-rays on your teeth should not prevent you from getting them done, and therefore helping the doctor detect, prevent and possibly remove infection from inside your mouth.
I hope this wasn’t too long-winded!
Stay healthy my friends!