In 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovered the X-ray. Not initially knowing what kind of ray he had discovered led to it being called an “X-ray,” and the name stuck. Of course, X-rays are no longer a mystery; they are a major tool of dental and medical diagnosis. Even though the name has not been updated, the technology has evolved immensely. But are X-rays safe?
Patients should be aware that medical and dental X-ray procedures do expose them to small amounts of radiation. However, the amount for dental radiographs is especially small — comparable to the amounts you receive from simply going about your daily activities.
We are all exposed to an amount of radiation that occurs naturally, called ‘background
radiation’ - we receive this radiation from energy and particles that come from space and from elements in our planet. The amount depends on where we live or how we travel. For example, higher background radiation is received at higher altitudes and during air travel. There is background radiation from concrete buildings, roads, and the sun.
Just standing around outside for several minutes, you receive more than 3 bitewing x-rays worth of radiation every day. You would have to take 2,000 dental x-rays to equal the radiation in 1 mammogram! We would have to take almost 10,000 dental x-rays to reach your maximum safe yearly dose.
All patients having X-rays taken by the dentist have protective aprons placed on them to cover the thyroid and other sensitive organs. These are made from either lead or a lead equivalent material that blocks radiation going to the body.
What about children?
As with adults, the frequency of X-rays recommended for children depends on each mouth, but they don’t have to be routine - we take them as needed, for example if a child has high risk of cavities due to poor brushing habits, high sugar intake, if a child is going through orthodontics or just genetics.
However, the amount of radiation can be reduced, depending on the size of the patient. We always use a pediatric exposure on smaller children, which gives us the same image quality with a smaller radiation amount.
At Flow Dental Care, we are very conservative about the numbers of X-rays that we take. Our digital X-rays reduces the exposure amount up to 85%, comparing to traditional X-rays, and we never take unnecessary images since we can also rely on other technologies that are radiation-free, such as CariVu.