Worried about dental X-rays?

Have you ever wondered how safe dental x-rays are? Then you are not alone. Let’s explore the facts and hopefully make some conclusions about the safety of dental x-rays. Radiation is a natural phenomenon. We get it from food, air, cosmic radiation from space, and from the ground (typically from radon gas that seeps from the earth).

Let’s explore some every day sources of radiation. Bananas contain about 1 microsievert of radiation. A five-hour airline flight contains exposes us to 25 microsieverts. A year of TV watching will add 10 microsieverts and breathing air for one day yields 6 microsieverts.

A chest x-ray yields 120 microsieverts while a mammogram yields 440 microsieverts. A single abdominal CT scan yields about 7,000 microsieverts.

A single intraoral image transmits about 4 microsieverts of radiation. Kids typically receive two bitewings for a dose of 8 microsieverts (A bitewing is a type of x-ray image which is taken by a dentist to assess oral health or to look at a particular area of the mouth .).

Adults typically receive four bitewing radiographs for a dose of 16 microsieverts. A panorex can yield 26 microsieverts and a full mouth series can yield 88 microsieverts.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the EPA state that the annual occupation limit for an adult is around 50,000 microsieverts. Consequently, a patient would need to receive 3,125 sets of 4 bitewing x-rays in a single year before hitting that limit. If an individual received yearly bitewings as an adult from age 20 to age 100, that would only result in 1,280 microsieverts of exposure.

Is any amount of radiation safe? According to the EPA, there is no firm basis for setting a “safe” level; however, there do appear to be threshold exposures. For example, the smallest acute health change listed by the EPA, changes to our blood chemistry, would result from an exposure of 500,000 microsieverts. That would equate to 166 years of living with regular background radiation of 3,000 microsieverts per year or eating 136.9 bananas every day for 100 years.

So, do you need to wear a special aluminum foil hat when you have dental x-rays taken? The answer is no. In fact, because the radiation exposure is so low, lead aprons are not physiologically necessary; however, their use is still recommended by various organizations for dental patients, especially for children and pregnant women whose tissues are more radiosensitive.

In conclusion, the health benefits of dental x-rays outweigh the apparent risks.

When to Get Dental X-Rays?

The frequency of getting X-rays of your teeth often depends on your medical and dental history and current condition. Some people may need X-rays as often as every six months; others with no recent dental or gum disease and who visit their dentist regularly may get X-rays only every couple of years. If you are a new patient, your dentist may take X-rays as part of the initial exam and to establish a baseline record from which to compare changes that may occur over time.

People who fall into the high risk category who may need X-rays taken more frequently include:

  • Children generally need more X-rays than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing and because their teeth are smaller. As a result, decay can reach the inner part of the tooth, dentin, quicker and spread faster.

  • Adults with extensive restorative work, such as fillings to look for decay beneath existing fillings or in new locations.

  • People who drink a lot of sugary beverages to look for tooth decay (since the sugary environment creates a perfect situation for cavities to develop).
  • People with periodontal (gum) disease to monitor bone loss.
  • People who have dry mouth, called xerostomia ,whether due to medications (such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, antihistamines, and others) or disease states (such as Sjögren’s syndrome, damaged salivary glands, radiation treatment to head and neck).  Dry mouth conditions can lead to the development of cavities.
  • Smokers to monitor bone loss resulting from periodontal disease (smokers are at increased risk of periodontal disease).

Did you know:

  • We think a shiny, white smile is attractive, but did you know in medieval Japan white teeth were considered ugly? Women used roots and inks to stain their teeth black, which they felt was much more attractive.

Medical uses of  X-Radiation in the Medical Field

Hospitals, doctors, and dentists use a variety of nuclear materials and procedures to diagnose, monitor, and treat a wide assortment of metabolic processes and medical conditions in humans. In fact, diagnostic x-rays or radiation therapy have been administered to about 7 out of every 10 Americans. As a result, medical procedures using radiation have saved thousands of lives through the detection and treatment of conditions ranging from hyperthyroidism to bone cancer.

The most common of these medical procedures involve the use of x-rays — a type of radiation that can pass through our skin. When x-rayed, our bones and other structures cast shadows because they are denser than our skin, and those shadows can be detected on photographic film. The effect is similar to placing a pencil behind a piece of paper and holding the pencil and paper in front of a light. The shadow of the pencil is revealed because most light has enough energy to pass through the paper, but the denser pencil stops all the light. The difference is that x-rays are invisible, so we need photographic film to “see” them for us. This allows doctors and dentists to spot broken bones and dental problems.

Alternatives to X-Rays

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a very good tool for imaging using magnets, and it will produce very clear images to help diagnose multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, torn ligaments, tendonitis, cancer, and strokes without using x-rays.

Fluoroscopy is a type of medical imaging that shows a continuous x-ray image on a monitor, much like an x-ray movie. It is used to display the movement of a body part or of an instrument or dye coursing through the patient’s body.

Contrast media are often used in conjunction with a fluoroscope. In fluoroscopy, the X-rays pass through the body onto a fluorescent screen, creating a moving X-ray image. Doctors may use fluoroscopy to trace the passage of contrast media through the body. Doctors can also record the moving X-ray images on film or video.

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to look at organs and structures inside a body. It is most often used to diagnose gallstones, but it also is used to examine a fetus in a pregnant woman’s body. Ultrasound does not involve radiation exposure.

Digital mammography is performed the same as a traditional mammogram, and may be more beneficial for women under 50 years old, women with dense breasts, and women who have not yet gone through menopause. In this procedure, x-ray film is replaced by solid-state detectors that convert x-rays into electric signals similar to those found in digital cameras.

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Were Radioactive

We all know the obvious things that produce radiation: nuclear power plants, microwaves, atomic bombs, and holidays to certain parts of the Ukraine. However, it’s the less-obvious things that you’ve got to watch out for. The Brazil nut is one of the most radioactive foods in the world; however, don’t think that eating several handfuls of them will give you superpowers. It won’t (we tried). Instead, as one unfortunate obsessive nut eater found, doing this will just make your poop and urine extremely radioactive. The reason for this radioactivity is simple: the roots of the tree that produce the Brazil nut grow so deep into the ground that they absorb massive levels of radium, a naturally-occurring source of radiation.

New York City’s Grand Central Station is one of the largest railway stations in the world. It’s also, as many of the commuters that pass through it might be worried to know, one of the most radioactive. This is because many of the walls of the station, as well as its foundations, were built using granite, a rock capable of holding natural radiation. In fact, the radiation levels produced by the station are so high that they actually exceed the levels that nuclear power plants are legally allowed to emit.

It’s a scientific fact that the higher in altitude you go, the more exposure to forms of cosmic radiation you receive. You can blame the Earth’s atmosphere for this: the atmospheric layer that surrounds the Earth gets thinner with the closer you get to it and, therefore, provides less protection to the people underneath it. This is a problem for the residents of Denver, as their city is approximately one mile above sea level. As a result, its population is blasted by twice as much radiation as those living at sea levels. Weirdly, however, this isn’t having an ill-effect on their health: one study found that populations who live at mountain elevations live longer and have healthier lives, proving that instead of superpowers, all this cosmic radiation might be causing people to develop super healing powers.

So, let’s say we’ve scared you into vowing never to eat bananas or Brazil nuts ever again. Your body is now a temple to clean non-radioactive living. However, if you’ve got a granite worktop in your kitchen, then there’s a good chance that nearly every piece of food that’s been prepared on it has been subjected to radiation. If you remember the story about Grand Central station, you’ll know why: it’s because granite is an excellent rock for retaining naturally-occurring radiation.