Dental X-Rays – Are They Safe?

Many people cringe at the mere mention of radiation exposure. The word radiation conjures up images of all manner of bad things, including bombs and cancer. But do you know that there are many beneficial uses of radiation? One of which is the x-ray commonly used by medical and dental professionals to diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions.

You may be one who worries about how much radiation is in a dental x-ray and if it could be harmful. To get to the bottom of this, you must first understand just exactly what an x-ray is. X-rays are energy in the form of waves, identical to visible light. In fact, the only difference between light and x-rays is that light doesn’t have enough energy to go through your body and x-rays do. Both can make an image on photographic film, so both types of energy are used to make pictures; light makes photographs of the “outside” of objects, x-rays make pictures of the “inside” of objects, including your body. The effects of radiation on tissues is often measured in units called millirem (mrem).

Advances in x-ray equipment, especially digital technology, allows your dentist to get a good x-ray image using much less radiation than was previously required. A typical dental x-ray image exposes you to only about 2 or 3 mrem. The National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP) says that the average resident of the U.S. receives about 360 mrem every year from all sources, including naturally occurring radiation. In fact, the average person receives 10 mrem per year just from watching television. Some other common sources of radiation that occur in our everyday environment include smoke detectors (less than 1 mrem per year), living in a brick house instead of a wood one (about 10 mrem per year due to radioactive materials in the masonry), cooking with natural gas (about 10 mrem per year from radon gas in the natural gas supply), reading a book for 3 hours per day (about 1 mrem per year due to small amounts of radioactive materials in the wood used to make the paper), and even from flying in an airplane (about 25 mrem for one 5 hour flight) You even receive about 2 mrem per year from sleeping next to someone! This is because all of us have very small amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials in our bodies. Radiation is the same whether it is naturally occurring, (such as the 80 mrem you receive from an entire day in the sun) or if it is human made. There is no difference in the effects of man-made radiation vs. naturally occurring radiation.

Radiation from dental x-rays is a minimal portion of a person’s annual exposure and poses negligible risk to you, therefore it is not in your best interest to avoid dental x-rays. The information your dentist receives from this set of data is valuable in providing you the best dental care possible. Dr. Glass only takes x-rays that are deemed necessary and has updated all of his x-ray equipment to the newest digital technology. The x-ray equipment is inspected on a regular basis by the Colorado Department of Public Health and all of the staff have received training on proper use of the equipment and implement proper practices and precautions for minimizing exposure.

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