Dental X-rays and How Dentists Must Minimise Risks

Dental X-rays And How Dentists Must Act To Minimise Radiation Risks

The Australian Dental Journal’s March Supplement (ADJ 2012; 57: (1 Suppl): 2-8 ) contained an article titled “Update on the biological effects of ionizing radiation, relative dose factors and radiation hygiene”. The authors of the  article were SC White and SM Mallya, both from the Section of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, School of Dentistry, The University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

The article addressed the concerns that some people have about the risk of diagnostic x-rays causing cancer, and what measures dentists should take to minimise the risk.

The article acknowledges that dental x-rays have an important function in modern dental practice: without the availability of diagnostic x-ray imaging, dentists would effectively be ‘operating blind’.  Dental x-rays allow dentists to see:

–       The presence and depth of decay in teeth and under fillings and crowns

–       The number, length and shape of tooth roots (critical to know if a tooth requires root canal therapy or needs to be extracted)

–       The height of the bony sockets around teeth (low bone height tells the dentist that there is destructive gum disease present)

–       The presence or absence of unerupted teeth

–       The presence and position of pathological lesions inside the jaw bones

–       Many other details invisible to the human eye, even if magnification is used.

Given that there are many benefits of using dental x-ray imaging, the authors examined evidence of risks to patients, particularly the risks of developing cancer.

The authors reviewed many scientific papers that discussed this issue, and concluded that while it is conclusive that exposure to high-dose radiation increases the risk of developing cancer, there is less risk with exposure to diagnostic radiation (like dental x-rays).  However, the authors were keen to make the point that dentists should take a variety of measures to ensure that any risk was kept to an absolute minimum.

The following  recommendations were made:

Dentists should only make x-rays when there is a clear benefit to the patient, and where there is reasonable expectation the x-ray “will offer unique information influencing diagnosis or treatment”. This is influenced by the patient’s medical and dental history, current symptoms and clinical findings, and treatment plans that are being considered.

Dentists should take every possible measure to make sure that the dose of x-radiation delivered to each patient is minimized. For example, digital x-rays use much less x-radiation than film-based x-ray systems, so dentists are encouraged to use digital imaging in their practices. The appropriate x-ray shielding for individual patients and within the walls of buildings were recommended, as were optimal imaging techniques to reduce the need to retake images.

What we do to reduce exposure to X-Radiation:

–       We only take x-ray images of your teeth and jaws when we believe the benefits outweigh the risks

–       We use digital radiography to minimise the dose of x-radiation

–       We use industry-approved shielding for individuals and within our practice walls

–       All of our dentists and hygienists are well-practised in the art of Dental Radiography, and use techniques that reduce the risk that an image might need to be retaken.