How bad are dental X-Rays?
There is a lot of very bad information out there which does a great disservice to you as a patient. The most concerning of this is the modern media’s so-called “doctors” on daytime television unfounded scare of dental X-rays. Lets get this straight right now, if a dentist went on television and told women that mammograms are mostly inaccurate and that the diagnosis of these tests relies on a heavy amount of subjectivity on the part of the radiologist, thereby contributing to a very high degree of false positives (which all turns out to be true, in fact), well people would drive that guy right out of town, agreed? So why does a daytime actor (that is what they are) get kudos and high fives from the media as well as a willing band of loyal followers to march into dental offices around the country and exclaim that they no longer want X-rays because of the harmful effects with absolutely no unsubstantiated evidence whatsoever? Well thats the question. [The truth about dental X-rays is shocking.
Radiation dosages are measured with a unit of measurement, not unlike a tablespoon or a pound is. The units are called millisieverts or mSv. Radiation is everywhere. In fact, just walking around for a day and being involved in life (watching TV, using a computer, going for a walk, etc.) you are exposed to approximately .01mSv throughout the 24 hour day. An entire set (18 films) of dental radiographs is .0055 mSv exposure, which is half of what you would normally be exposed to on a daily basis just simply living your life. A mammogram buy comparison is .4 mSv.] So now we have the comparisons. What this says is that a mammogram exposes you to 40 times greater radiation than a full mouth set of dental X-rays (18 films). Im not saying this because I want people to stop getting mammograms, but I am pointing out the inconsistencies in the logic that because dental radiographs expose a person to radiation, albeit incredibly small amounts and also very useful in detecting dental disease.
Now I certainly understand that breast cancer is certainly more lethal than a cavity, but both are unhealthy and to make the claim that testing for one is any less important than another is ignorant, especially when using faulty logic and scare tactics. In fact, dental disease does contribute to an overwhelming majority of whole body health issues. A dental infection can easily enter the blood stream and then infect other parts of the body, including the heart and the brain, both of which can be very lethal. Additionally, a very small cavity can cause a significant disruption in ones life, something we all have experienced, leading to pain and discomfort and an unwanted emergency trip to a dentist causing a person to miss work or an important engagement. Having said that, dental X-rays happen to detect much more than “just cavities” and have and do detect types of oral cancer in fact. So, in the end, I will continue to ask my patients to consent to a full set of X-rays when the time is appropriate for that patient, which happens to be usually around every 4 to 5 years, which, in terms of radiation exposure, means that every 4 to 5 years we are asking you to basically take a walk or watch TV for a couple of hours more, in order to allow us to find cavities, infections, cysts, tumors, fractures, bone cancer and a host of other pathological entities, which by-the-way, Xrays do very well.