We all have that moment where we see the dentist and dental nurse run off to a ‘protected area’ and hide from the x-ray as it scans our mouth and we start to question how safe this really is. The answer to the question seems to be incredibly mixed depending on your source, with some media publications highlighting the danger, while dentistry sources refuting the claims and pointing out the minimal dose of radiation. So let’s start there.
How Much Radiation Is Used In A Digital Dental X-Ray?
If it is an intraoral x-ray then it should be around 8-9 micro-sieverts of radiation, while if they do a full mouth scan then it is probably around 24 micro-sieverts. The fact of the matter is this is actually a very small amount, with your body receiving around 3,000-4,000 each year.
For this reason, it is understandable why many don’t think it should be something to be alarmed about and why it is considered safe for children.
Having said that, the safe policy is always to adopt the ALARA safety principle (as low as reasonably achievable) so you can get the results using the absolute minimum amount of radiation doses possible. For this reason, dentists will normally attempt to avoid an x-ray, unless they feel it is necessary. The issue is it is quite often necessary in order to better identify and treat issues such as decay, bone loss or abscesses.
The reality is these issues could largely go unnoticed if you opt to avoid an x-ray, so as much as people may want to avoid, it is not recommended.
So now onto children. Why are they highlighted as an area of concern? Well it’s because they are more sensitive to radiation, which is why you should try to avoid their exposure when possible. Having said that, once again the levels in a dentistry x-ray is very low, so it is not recognised as a danger currently.
How about pregnant women? They should certainly avoid dental x-rays, as they need to keep their exposure to radiation at an absolute minimum. The developing fetus is a huge amount more susceptible to radiation related issues than a full grown adult, meaning a dentist should never perform the x-ray on a pregnant individual.
An issue can arise where there is no way around it and a pregnant woman needs a dental x-ray. If this is the case, they need to talk with their dentist and work out the best avenue possible. A leaded apron and thyroid collar can further help and you should demand this from your dentist if pregnant.