Radiation Hesitation

You arrive at your dental appointment and your hygienist suggests taking x-rays. For some, thoughts of radiation exposure cross their mind.

If you are one of the worriers, research may put your mind at ease.

Radiation exposure associated with dentistry is nominal in comparison to total exposure from all sources.

In today’s world, we are surrounded by countless devices that give off radiation. Cell phones, portable music players, computers, television — the list goes on. Let’s put it into perspective:

  • Measured in millisieverts (mSv), the average radiation dose in the United States is estimated at

3.6 mSv per year.

  • 3 mSv of our total radiation dosage per year comes from natural sources (the sun, etc.)
  • The other .6 mSv comes from manmade sources. Most manmade radiation is medical-related.
  • Radiation from dental x-rays is minimal- only about .2% of the total exposure from all sources- a very small amount.

Of course, safety measures are taken to prevent unnecessary radiation exposure while you’re sitting in the dental chair.

Lead aprons that cover your throat and chest protect your thyroid and lymph nodes. Meanwhile, equipment and facilities are inspected and tested to ensure they meet high standards set by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Radiological Health Program.

You may wonder why your dentist or hygienist steps out of the room when you’re stuck with that lead apron and an x-ray machine pointed at your mouth. The answer is simple: they take x-rays all day long. Prolonged exposure to radiation could be harmful to the staff member.

X-ray machine operators are required to maintain current licensure and certification. Dental assistants in Maryland must pass the Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam. The state’s Radiological Health Program regularly monitors machine operators to make sure they are following proper safety procedures.

At the end of the day, the benefits far outweigh the costs when it comes to x-rays in dentistry.

Without the use of x-rays, dentists can only see a portion of the outer surface of your teeth. X-rays allow for dentists to see the whole tooth, from the inside out. This detailed picture of your teeth can be used to evaluate and diagnose oral conditions, long before they become much larger problems.

The benefits of digital dental x-rays range from detecting decay to identifying periodontal disease – and almost every time give dentists a better chance to restore your smile and bring you to optimal dental health. Additionally, proper tooth position can be determined using the high quality imaging that digital dental x-rays produce.

After a digital x-ray machine snaps a picture, the image is uploaded onto a computer and readable immediately. That means you’ll be out of the office sooner, and more quickly on your way to a brighter smile. Gone are the days of conventional film x-rays, where only one original copy was produced. Digital dental x-rays can be electronically shared between providers without losing the quality of the image.

As an added bonus, there is even less radiation exposure with digital x-rays than film. In fact, some reports suggest that radiation exposure is up to 90% less with digital x-rays.

Many high quality offices now offer digital CT dental scans. Their images allow a 3-dimensional view of a section of the mouth- a perspective never before possible. This enables dentists to have much more refined information for diagnostics, which is particularly useful in implant dentistry.

So, the next time you find yourself ready to run from the dental chair, remember the facts. Digital dental x-rays are a safe and integral part of giving you the healthy smile that you deserve.

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