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How Safe are Dental X-Rays?

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Don't look now, but the amount of radiation you're getting from reading this post is more than you'd get from a dental X-ray.

"As a matter of fact, just walking around, living your life, driving your car, you're getting seven times the amount of radiation that you would get in a full series of X-rays, which is twenty X-rays, and we only do that once out of every five years," says Dr. Caven.

So just how safe are dental X-rays?

Like most everything else in dentistry that has improved over time, modern digital radiography bears almost no resemblance to conventional dental X-rays. The radiation you get from either is negligible, but Dr. Caven's digital imaging system uses significantly less radiation than traditional equipment.

"With the amazing advancements in that technology, our X-rays today are eighty to ninety percent less radiation than they were even twenty years ago," he adds.

The American Dental Association (ADA) agrees, going so far as to say that dental X-rays do not need to be delayed even if you are trying to become pregnant or are breastfeeding. By their nature, dental X-rays are concentrated on a very specific region of the mouth and are usually taken through a cone for even greater focus. This ultra-precise targeting, combined with how quickly they can be taken, reduces the exposure time to near imperceptible levels. The scant amount of radiation exposure is minimized even further through the use of a leaded apron and thyroid collar. In fact, Dr. Caven takes every precaution to ensure that radiation exposure is in keeping with the ADA's As Low as Reasonable Achievable (ALARA) principle.

So just how much radiation are we talking?

Radiation doses are measured on a millisievert (mSv) scale, with a typical Bitewing X-ray weighing in at 0.038 and a full mouth X-ray at 0.150. Naturally occurring radiation from space emits about three and a half times that amount, and a lower gastrointestinal tract X-ray, by comparison, comes in at 4.060.

Benefits far outweigh the risks

"Since X-rays are the foundation to prevention and diagnosis, don't let your fear of radiation stop you from getting the treatment that you need," advises Dr. Caven.

Your oral health determines the number of X-rays that need to be taken. According to the ADA, many oral diseases cannot be seen with a visual examination, but an X-ray can reveal small cavities between the teeth or hidden by fillings, infections in the bone, periodontal disease, abscesses or cysts, impacted teeth, and even tumors. Early detection is key to saving time, money, unnecessary discomfort, and avoiding problems that can morph into something more serious if left untreated.

Talk it over

If you still have questions or concerns about the safety of dental X-rays, schedule some time to talk them over with Dr. Caven or discuss them with him during your next visit. Understanding your anxieties, he will be better prepared to address and help you overcome your fears for a more pleasant, worry-free dental experience.

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