Is the radiation exposure from dental xrays a health concern?

Yes and No.  Taking dental xrays is indicated when the information they provide to your dentist cannot be derived somewhere else.  There is a small potential risk to the use of any xrays but that risk is related to the total dose received over your lifetime (like the ultraviolet radiation from the sun and skin cancer).

To put this in perspective the average North American receives about one millirem of radiation dose per day (or less) from background sources.  Most of this is from natural sources like radon and cosmic radiation but includes all sources, natural or man made.  One dental xray (the small ones) are about ½ millirem or half day equivalent (or less) .  A panoramic xray which you may have had is approximately ½ to 1.0 millirem or a bit less than one day equivalent (or less).  By comparison one coast to coast airline flight will expose you to around 3 millirems or 3 days background equivalent.

With respect to the dental xrays doses I mention above I have said “or less” because of recent technology advances.  Most dental offices are or have converted to using digital xray technology.  The doses above relate to the old traditional xray film/analogue xray doses.  Digital xray sensor doses are almost one tenth of these older xray exposure levels.   In fact when we started using digital sensors, which are ultrasensitive, we had to turn our anode (xray camera) to the absolute lowest settings.  It is “just barely on” for digital compared to the settings we needed for standard film xrays.  The same applies to all dental-related xray doses now.  This is an expensive change for a dental office to make but in addition to much lower radiation, the image quality is much better and more useful.

Next time, some thoughts on the recent headline in the Globe and Mail (April 12, 2012) about a connection between brain tumors and dental xrays.

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