A Closer Look at Dental X-rays

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Recently, we have had patients questioning the need for dental x-rays and expressing their concerns about the level of radiation received due to a show that Dr. Oz did about dental radiation and an increase in thyroid cancer. We felt that we should address this issue as the show itself was very misleading and incomplete in its coverage.

Dr. Oz was doing a show on the increase in thyroid cancer and cited dental x-rays as a possible contributor and told viewers to deny having x-rays taken at their dental appointments unless absolutely necessary and demand that a thyroid collar be used.
Below is a photo of a thyroid collar available for use in our office.

By the way, this so-called study he was referencing on the show failed to mention the fact that it only involved 313 people in Kuwait, which incidentally has an abnormally high incidence of thyroid cancer to begin with. Many believe this is because their diet consists mainly of seafood. The study also said the results of their study “should be treated with caution because the data was based on self-reporting by the participants. Comprehensive historical dental x-ray records were not available from the clinics.”

Some of the benefits of dental x-rays and the reason that they are recommended on a regular basis are that it helps the dentist discover decay early so that we can remove it before it reaches the pulp chamber and causes the patient to need a root canal or have the tooth extracted. We can diagnose disease in the bone, infections forming under the gums, and some types of cancerous tumors.

As far as the level of radiation received by the patient, dentists follow the ALARA principle, which stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” when obtaining radiographs. The level of radiation is limited by 1)using the fastest speed film, 2) reduction in the size of the x-ray beam, 3) use of proper exposer and processing techniques, 4) use of lead aprons and, whenever possible thyroid collars. **Note-thyroid collars cannot always be used because in some types of dental x-rays, such as a panoramic x-ray, they actually block the image we are trying to capture.

A typical dental x-ray exposes you to about 3 mrems. Here are some examples of everyday radiation levels that you may not be aware that you are exposed to: living in a brick house (about 10 mrem per year), cooking with natural gas (about 10 mrem per year), and sleeping next to someone else (about 2 mrem per year). All of us have small amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials in our bodies. You can even get the equivalent radiation of two dental radiographs from a short plane ride and an entire day in the sun is comparable to twenty dental x-rays.

So, in the end it is not in your best interest to refuse dental x-rays due to the limited amount of radiation received. Your dentist acquires valuable information from those x-rays to assist you in your dental health. Now that you are properly informed, you just have to ask yourself, “do the benefits outweigh the risks”?