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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Do you know what to do if you knock out a tooth?

Over the summer one of our patients had a bicycle accident and knocked out her front teeth. Due to quick thinking on the scene, the teeth were re-implanted and are still in the healing process, the outcome is still unknown. Unfortunately accidents happen, but it brought up the question, would you know what to do if this happened to you?

Dentists refer to a knocked-out tooth as an “avulsed” tooth. When a tooth has been knocked out, the nerves, blood vessels and supporting tissues are damaged, too. The nerves and blood vessels can’t be repaired which is why all avulsed teeth will need a root canal treatment. If you act quickly after an accident, being careful not to damage the tooth further, the bone can reattach to the root of the tooth once it’s put back into place and the tooth can be saved. An avulsed tooth is fragile and needs to be handled delicately to give it the best chance at survival. Try not to touch the root (the part of the tooth that was under the gum). If the tooth is dirty, hold it by the upper part (the crown) and rinse it. Don’t wipe it off with a washcloth, shirt or other fabric. This could damage the tooth. Keep the tooth moist. Many people have heard they should store it in a glass of milk. While this is a better option than water it is best if you keep the tooth moist with your saliva, by either placing the tooth in your mouth between the cheek and gum or placing it in a cup or container with your saliva. If nothing else is available it is ok to place the tooth in a cup of water, the most important thing is to keep the tooth moist. If you feel comfortable, try slipping the tooth back into its socket. In many cases, if the accident just happened it will slip right in. Make sure it’s facing the right way and that it is in straight. Don’t try to force it into the socket. If it doesn’t go back into place easily and without pressure, then just keep it moist (in saliva, milk or water) and get to the dentist as soon as you can.

It is very important to re-implant the tooth as soon as possible, ideally within the hour of the accident. After slipping your tooth back into the socket, your dentist will decide if a root canal treatment needs to be done immediately or at a later date. The tooth will then be splinted with a wire to the teeth on either side of it for stability. If the bone around the tooth was not fractured, the root usually will reattach firmly to the bone in about three to four weeks. More damage to the area may require six to eight weeks of repair time. Your dentist should examine the tooth again in three to six months. Unless there are signs of infection, the next visit will occur at your yearly checkup. The dentist will follow up for the next two to three years to ensure that the tooth re-implanted successfully.

The Scoop on Calcium

We’ve all been told for years that calcium is vital for bone health. It is common knowledge that older adults, particularly women over 50 should take calcium supplements to keep their aging bones strong and prevent osteoporosis related fractures. Until recently the main debate has been about which type of calcium supplements were best, whether the pills can be a cause of kidney stones, and what other supplements need to be taken in conjunction with the calcium. In a recent draft recommendation from the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force it was concluded that supplemental calcium and vitamin D don’t prevent fractures in post-menopausal women.

Here’s what you should know. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body and is found primarily in your bones and teeth. Bones and teeth are living, active tissue and they constantly absorb and release calcium and other minerals. Calcium is not only important for your bones and teeth to remain healthy and strong, but it has many other important functions such as regulating your heart beat and blood pressure, conducting nerve impulses, allowing your muscles to contract and helping your blood clot. If you do not take in enough calcium, your body will leach it from your teeth and bones, which can weaken them.
According to the September 2012 issue of the John’s Hopkins Wellness Letter, many researchers have been critical of the conclusions made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task force, saying they have misrepresented the research, or at least put too negative a spin on it. Calcium is vital to overall health and it is important to make sure you are getting enough in your diet. The most common recommendation for calcium intake ranges from 800-1200 mg daily, but much of that can come from a calcium rich diet. Foods such as dairy, soy, fish, broccoli and almonds are good natural sources of calcium. If your diet falls short of the daily recommended calcium intake, supplements can be beneficial, buy there is little added benefit from taking doses higher than 500 mg at a time. Since the body absorbs larger amounts less efficiently, it is best to spread your calcium intake throughout the day – which is another reason why food sources are preferable. High doses of calcium are known to increase the risk of certain types of kidney stones, in contrast the foods that are naturally rich in calcium seem to protect against kidney stones.
Bottom line… talk to your doctor about your calcium needs, chances are if you eat a good, balanced diet, you may be getting all the calcium you need.