What does NASA’s Juno space probe and Dentistry have in common? By the end of Juno’s mission in February 2018, it will have been exposed to the equivalent of 100 million dental x-rays. And although Juno won’t survive the mission, it won’t be due to radiation overdose.
Back in January 1896, a dentist in Braunschweig, Germany named Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen made the first dental x-ray. In America, C. Edmund Kells, a dentist in New Orleans, introduced the dental x-ray – which was called “The Roentgen Ray” – to America. But it wasn’t until 1919 when dental x-ray equipment went into commercial production, with General Electric’s x-ray unit and Eastman Kodak’s dental x-ray film.
Back when Dr. Kells began working with x-rays, no one thought they could be harmful. Like many of the early pioneers of x-ray use, Kells suffered later in life from overexposure to radiation.
Now that we know that radiation exposure can cause severe health problems, dental X-ray proceedures are designed to limit the body’s exposure to radiation. The guiding rule dentists are expected to use when employing x-rays is called the ALARA principle – “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.”
Regular check-ups once or twice a year, with x-rays, are fine. If you switch dentists, and have recently had x-rays done, ask for your records to be forwarded to your new dentist’s office so you don’t need to have another set done.
Speak to your dentist about strategies to keep x-ray checks to a minimum if you have a lot of dental work that needs to be done. Usage of leaded aprons and leaded collars to protect your abdomen and thyroid gland are also common ways to protect you from over-exposure to radiation.
Tell your dentist if you have any health issues or are pregnant (or hope to be).
X-rays help your dentist detect any new cavities, determine the health or your gums, and evaluate the condition of your teeth. For children, x-rays provide information about the growth and development of teeth.
There are four different types of dental x-rays:
- Bitewings: a plastic sensor or film is placed between teeth and the patient bites down. This is used to reveal cavities between teeth.
- Periapicals: Provide the dentist with a look at the roots of front or back teeth. This type of x-ray procedure shows only two or three teeth per image captured.
- Panoramic: These x-rays are done with a machine that rotates around the outside of the head, and shows the jaw bones and all the teeth.
- Cone Beam CT: used infrequently, this process is used to make a three-dimensional (3D) image of the teeth and jaws.
Four bitewing X-rays, which is what you typically get during your regular checkup, exposes you to about .005 millisieverts of radiation, according to the American College of Radiology. That’s comparable to the amount of radiation you’d be exposed to in a typical day of activities, from sun exposure and other naturally occurring sources of radiation. A panoramic dental X-ray exposes you to about twice that amount of radiation.
If you’re concerned about exposure to radiation, the best person to ask is your dentist. You can also do a little research about what sort of questions you may want to ask at the Image Gently website, which is focused on pediatric x-ray safety, but is a good general resource for everyone.
If you’ve been putting off getting regular dental checkups due to budget issues, dental savings plans provide savings of 10%-60% on a wide variety of preventive dental care —including cleanings, checkups and x-rays—and restorative treatments.
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