When you go to the dentist with a toothache, you'll probably have an X-ray done to check the condition of your tooth, root, and bone. An X-ray is a valuable tool that lets your dentist diagnose root infections, bone loss, cavities, and misaligned teeth. However, you may be concerned about the number of dental X-rays you get over the years since the effect of radiation is cumulative. Here are a few things to know that may put your mind at ease.
Amount Of Radiation Exposure
You're exposed to radiation all the time. The levels are quite low, so the effect on your health is negligible. Cosmic radiation blankets the earth and is absorbed into the background, giving you low-level exposure 24 hours a day. One way to judge how much radiation exposure you get from an X-ray exam is to compare it to the amount you receive normally each day from cosmic radiation.
A dental X-ray gives you about 0.005 mSv, which is the typical amount of radiation you are exposed to each day just by living on planet earth. Compare that to a chest X-ray which exposes you to 10 days worth of radiation, and a CT scan of the abdomen that exposes you to three years worth of radiation. In other words, the amount of radiation you receive from a dental X-ray is very low, so the diagnostic benefit you get from the test probably outweighs the risks.
Frequency Of X-rays
You can expect to need an X-ray when you have a dental problem or when you see a new dentist for the first time. Besides that, your dentist may recommend routine X-rays as part of your checkups. If you're an adult with fairly healthy teeth, your dentist may recommend an X-ray every two to three years. However, if you have a history of cavities or gum disease, your dentist may want you to have an X-ray as often as once per year. If you have concerns about getting an X-ray when you have healthy teeth, be sure to talk to your dentist about it rather than avoid going in for visits. Your dentist may agree to postpone X-rays for as long as possible. Also, keep in mind, when you undergo a dental X-ray, you are covered with a lead apron and thyroid collar to protect your organs from radiation exposure.
In some instances, an X-ray may be a medical necessity and other times it may not. However, you can rest assured your dentist understands the effects of cumulative radiation exposure and won't give you an X-ray without a good reason. Fortunately, even if you need frequent X-rays due to extensive dental work or chronic oral disease, you can feel comfortable knowing dental x-ray machines are designed to emit a fairly low amount of radiation. Additional info can be found here.