Exposure to dental x-rays can have serious health consequences, including head and neck tumors and systemic issues. The risk of a single x-ray is small, but some studies suggest that even low levels of radiation can increase the risk of cancer, particularly in children. To be safe, it's important to minimize exposure as much as possible. X-rays have their benefits, but any level of radiation carries a potential risk.
That's why it's important to avoid overusing them. Annual dental x-rays are generally safe, but if a patient has a medical condition that requires frequent x-rays, they should inform their dentist. I recently had to get a second opinion and a new series of x-rays just three weeks after the first. To help dentists make informed decisions, professional dental organizations publish guidelines on when x-rays should be taken.
I also spoke to my dermatologist about how I suspected that dental x-rays contributed to skin cancer. Last year, after receiving a similar number of dental x-rays, I developed two skin cancers on the same side of my face that had to be removed. To protect patients from radiation, dentists or dental hygienists place a lead apron over the chest that blocks most (90 to 95%) of the radiographic radiation. Unfortunately, some dentists may take advantage of patients without dental plans by overusing x-rays for financial gain.
Dental x-rays are necessary for identifying hidden tooth decay in areas between the teeth or under old fillings and crowns. However, dentists often downplay the risks associated with them, comparing them to the amount of radiation received during a plane flight or a few days of background radiation. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, dental care, including dental x-rays, is safe during pregnancy. New patients may be asked for x-rays to determine their oral health and establish a baseline for future changes.
The type and frequency of dental x-rays depend on the patient's needs and are determined based on the clinical examination and risk factors. X-rays are used to diagnose diseases that affect teeth and bones since these structures cannot be seen during an oral examination. Studies have also linked frequent dental x-rays to certain types of brain cancer, something that all dentists should disclose to their patients.Dental x-rays are an important part of every dentist's toolkit for detecting cavities and other problems in a patient's mouth. However, it's important to remember that too many can have serious health consequences.