Dental X-rays: Are they necessary? Could they be harmful?

We get a lot of questions from patients about whether or not dental x-rays may have harmful effects due to radiation exposure. With so much information available on the internet it can be confusing to know what information is true or correct--and there are constantly new articles or news topics on TV and social media.

While it is true that over-exposure to radiation has harmful effects, dental x-rays when taken appropriately are very low risk. Bitewing x-rays are the most common dental x-ray taken and they give about 0.005 mSv of radiation.

By comparison, This is about the same amount of radiation that the average person is exposed to each day by the sun and other natural sources, according to the American College of Radiology. A panoramic x-ray, which spins around the head capturing all of the teeth as well as upper and lower jaw, gives about twice that amount of radiation.

How Often Should Dental X-Rays Be Taken?

How often patients should receive dental x-rays depends on many factors--including the overall oral health and age of the patient. Patients who have a history of cavities or gum disease will need x-rays taken more frequently than a patient who has optimal oral health. Children and adolescents with a high risk of developing dental disease may need dental x-rays taken even more often than adults with the same risk of disease. This is because disease can spread much quicker through a baby tooth than an adult tooth. The American Dental Society has posted guidelines on how often dental x-rays should be taken. Typically, bitewing x-rays are taken every 6-24 months and a complete series of x-rays or a panoramic x-ray is taken every 3-5 years.

Are Dental X-Rays Necessary?

Dental x-rays are important to aid the dentist in diagnosing any conditions involving the teeth, gums, or the bone supporting teeth. Cavities that begin in between teeth or underneath existing dental restorations can generally not be detected without x-rays until they are very large. Also, dentist use x-rays to detect any signs of infection or abscesses caused from teeth or gum disease and many times cancer or tumors of the jaw is first discovered with a routine dental x-ray.  While it is important to have dental x-rays, care can be taken to limit the amount of radiation exposure.

Patients should always be given a lead apron and protective thyroid collar to wear when having x-rays taken. Also, women should always let tell the dentist if they are pregnant prior to receiving x-rays. Pregnant women can still receive x-rays, but reducing the amount of unnecessary radiation is even more important. Finally, digital x-rays have become so advanced that the amount of radiation exposure to the patient is incredibly low. The x-rays taken at our office utilize the newest technology to allow for the smallest amount of radiation necessary when patients require x-rays.

Have questions?

We would love to talk with you if you have questions about the dental care you will receive or the technology offered at our office. Please call us at 423-899-9530.

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