How Much Radiation do I Get from a Dental X-ray?

If you’ve ever wondered why your dentist draped you in a lead apron and all of their staff step out of the room each time you need a dental X-ray, it’s normal to have some concern about the safety of the procedure.

Fortunately, getting dental X-rays today is extremely safe…and the only reason why your dental team stays far away, is because of the risk of gradual exposure that accumulates day after day throughout their career.

Otherwise, dental X-rays are usually nothing to be concerned about!

Digital X-Rays Use Lower Amounts of Radiation

A digital X-ray requires less radiation to capture a high-resolution image than the traditional X-rays used a few decades ago. Depending on the type of film, equipment, and image being taken, it may be as much as a 90% reduction in exposure! As such, it’s safe to say that today’s dental X-rays are extremely safe.

Compared to not getting dental X-rays, the tiny amount of radiation exposure is an important trade off. Why? Because diagnostic imaging allows dentists to see inside and around the tooth structures where pathology (such as bone loss, oral cancer, or tooth decay) commonly lurk. Diagnosing them as early as possible allows for less-invasive and more cost-effective treatments. Otherwise, such problems can’t be detected until they’ve reached an advanced state that requires more aggressive therapies to manage.

A Daily Dose of Background Radiation

Every day, we’re exposed to radiation. It comes from the sun, our cell phones, and even riding in an airplane (the longer the airplane ride, the more radiation you’re exposed to!)

But when you get a set of four “bitewing” X-rays (the images that are usually taken about once a year to check for new cavities,) the total amount of radiation is only about 0.005 mSv (micro-Sieverts,) which is less than an average daily dose of radiation in everyday life.

To give you an idea of other types of radiation encountered in everyday activities, consider these comparisons:

• Going through an airport security scanner 80 times is the equivalent to a single day of casual radiation exposure. 1,000 times equals the amount of radiation used for a chest X-ray.
• An average 7-hour plane ride exposes each passenger to approximately 0.02 mSv (or 16 small dental X-rays)

Why is a Lead Apron Really Necessary?

Radiology and health experts follow the rule of ALARA, or “as low as reasonably achievable.” This means limiting the risk of scatter radiation to staff and patents. While scatter radiation is minimal, it cannot perforate lead. As such, lead aprons are used to shield tissues that are most sensitive to radiation, including the thyroid gland and reproductive organs. While the risk is extremely low, the apron essentially prevents radiation exposure to other parts of the body that are of greater concern.

If you have questions about dental X-rays or how often imaging is necessary to keep your smile healthy, be sure to speak with a Kois Center dentist in your area.