Dental X-rays are an important diagnostic tool used routinely during dental exams. While generally very safe with proper precautions, dental X-rays do involve some amount of radiation exposure, which carries a small potential risk of side effects.
Dental X-rays are safe if done correctly by a qualified professional, and at an appropriate interval of at least 12 to 24 months to minimize exposure to radiation. This is because previous research have shown that there may be a cancer risk related with exposure to dental X-rays.
Dental X-ray radiation should not have any side effects, though it has been linked in several studies to higher risks of brain cancer, parotid gland tumors, breast cancer, and thyroid cancer with long-term exposure.
Types of Dental X-Rays
Dental x ray is also known as dental imaging or radiographs. It refers to a 2-D digital technology that enables images to be transferred straight to a computer. The photographs can be quickly stored, printed, or viewed on a screen.
In comparison to conventional X-rays, digital imaging has a number of additional benefits. For instance, it is possible to expand and improve the image of a tooth. This enables your dentist to detect even the smallest changes that are invisible during an oral examination.
Additionally, if required, photos can be electronically shared to a new dentist, a specialist, or another dentist for a second opinion. In comparison to X-rays, digital imaging emits less radiation.
The most common dental X-rays are:
- Bitewing X-rays – Show the crown portions of the teeth above the gumline. Used to detect cavities.
- Periapical X-rays – Provide views of entire teeth down to the root and surrounding bone. Check for abscesses, cysts and impacted teeth.
- Panoramic X-rays – Scan all the upper and lower teeth in a single panoramic image. Useful for observing teeth alignment and placement.
- Cone beam CT scan – A specialized 3D scan of dental structures. Limited use for certain treatments.
Amount of Radiation Exposure
Dental X-rays require very low doses of radiation compared to medical X-rays of the body. For perspective:
- Bitewing X-rays – 0.005 mSv of radiation
- Full mouth X-rays – 0.150 mSv
- Panoramic X-ray – 0.010 mSv
- Dental cone beam CT – 0.100 mSv
This compares to lower than a day’s exposure to natural background radiation.
Potential Short-Term Side Effects
With dental X-rays, the radiation is highly targeted to the mouth area. Therefore, potential side effects occur in nearby tissues:
- Skin redness or irritation – Some irritation of the skin around the mouth may occur but is uncommon.
- Salivary gland inflammation – The salivary glands may rarely become inflamed.
- Hair loss – In very rare cases, some hair loss around the X-rayed area can occur but grows back.
Long-Term Cancer Risks
High cumulative doses have an extremely small association with thyroid cancer risk. Dental X-rays account for less than 1% of annual background radiation. Proper leaded thyroid collars provide shielding.
There is no definitive evidence showing routine dental X-rays increase brain cancer risks. Radiation scatter is minimized.
Genetic mutation is theoretically possible but unsubstantiated. The low radiation limits this potential.
Dental x rays and thyroid cancer
Due to the location of the thyroid gland and the fact that it is one of the most prevalent cancers globally, dental radiation exposure’s side effects are particularly likely to increase the risk of thyroid cancer. Dental X-ray exposure on a regular basis can lead to a number of health issues, including head and neck cancers and other systemic issues. The use of dental X-ray equipment and procedures has improved over time to reduce radiation exposure.
Dangers of panoramic dental x rays and safety measures
On a single X-ray, panoramic X-rays display the whole mouth region, including all the teeth in the upper and lower jaws. This X-ray can see impacted teeth, locate fully and partially emerged teeth, and assist in the identification of tumors. The radiation from a panoramic dental X-ray, which goes around your head, is roughly twice as high as other dental x-rays. Even if such doses of radiation are minimal, there is no such thing as an entirely safe exposure, and radiation accumulates over the course of your lifetime.
To ensure patient safety, every preventative measure is used. Lead thyroid collars and lead aprons both reduce exposure to the body’s trunk and protect the thyroid. These gadgets are particularly crucial for people who need to be a little bit more cautious when having X-rays taken, such as pregnant women.
Precautions and Guidelines
To minimize risks, dentists follow safety best practices including:
- Limiting frequency – Only taking X-rays every 1-3 years based on patient risk factors.
- Using lead shielding – Leaded aprons, thyroid collars and collimation reduce radiation exposure.
- Digital X-rays – Digital sensors involve much lower radiation doses than film.
- Proper technique – Taking only diagnostically necessary images.
Benefit vs. Risk Analysis
Dental X-rays provide immense benefit for detecting problems including:
- Tooth decay between the teeth and below the gumline
- Periodontal disease affecting bone levels
- Abscesses, cysts and oral tumors
- Developmental disorders
When used prudently, the benefits of dental radiography far outweigh negligible side effect risks. Proper precautions make dental X-rays one of the safer radiologic procedures patients undergo.
While dental X-rays involve low-level radiation exposure, resultant risks are minor compared to substantial diagnostic advantages for managing oral health. With proper safeguards and judicious use, dental radiography is a safe tool that benefits dental care.