Dental X-rays: Are there Risks?
By Dr. NizarKharma
Dental X-rays are often part of a regular dental check-up. Discover how they help your dentist monitor your oral health.
Depending on your oral health history and your dentist’s preferences, you will probably need to have dental x rays taken from time to time. Dental X-rays allow your dentist to closely monitor the health of your teeth and gums, so that changes and problems can be detected early, when treatment is most effective.
What Are Dental X-rays?
Dental X-rays are special images that allow your dentist to get a closer look at some of the structures inside your mouth, including your teeth, the roots of your teeth, your bite, and your facial bones.
The process involves placing an X-ray film in a piece of cardboard or plastic, which your dentist will ask you to bite down on to hold the film against the area he or she wants the X-ray to capture. Depending on how many angles or areas of your mouth your dentist wants to see on X-ray, this may be repeated several times. While the X-ray pictures are being captured, you will wear a protective apron to shield your body from the X-ray machine’s radiation.
Your dentist may use dental X-rays to look for:
- Tooth decay, also called cavities or caries, between your teeth or under your fillings
- Infections in the bones of your mouth
- Symptoms of gum (periodontal) disease
- An abscess, cyst, or tumor in your mouth
- Changes in your teeth or bones
- Problems with the ligaments that hold your teeth in place
- Dental developmental problems (in children)
- The location of an impacted or unerupted tooth (a tooth stuck in your gum tissue or bone)
Who Should Get Dental X-rays?
If you’re seeing a particular dentist for the first time, there’s a good chance that he or she will want to take a set of dental X-rays, unless you can provide the dentist with copies of recent X-rays. Your dentist will use these initial X-rays to evaluate your oral health, look for gum disease, and have a basis for future comparisons.
Your dentist will then determine how often you need follow-up X-rays to monitor for changes in the health of your gums and teeth. The interval at which you receive follow-up dental X-rays will depend on your age, overall oral health, and risk of having dental problems.
Risks of Dental X-rays
X-rays are one of the most commonly used tools for medical screening and diagnosis, but they are not without risks. The most worrisome issue associated with dental X-rays, as well as other types of X-rays, is a small increase in the risk of developing cancer, which is associated with exposure to radiation. The more X-rays you get throughout your lifetime and the younger you are when you have the X-rays, the higher your risk of developing cancer. There is also evidence that women are more susceptible than men to developing cancer caused by X-ray radiation exposure.
Pregnant women should also avoid having dental X-rays, since there may be a small risk to the unborn baby.
Tips: Reducingthe Risks
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people take steps to reduce their exposure. You can do so by:
- Bringing a copy of previous X-rays to your new dentist to avoid having unnecessary repeat X-rays.
- Asking that a lead apron or other protective shield be used when you are getting an X-ray.
- Inquiring about E- or F-speed film for X-rays, which are faster than conventional D-speed film, and will reduce the radiation dose.
In most cases, the benefits of having X-rays outweigh the potential risks. Dental health is vital for overall wellbeing—our health relies on our ability to eat and nourish ourselves.