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Dental X-Rays: Potential Risks if Not Properly Protected

By March 25, 2024April 4th, 2024No Comments

Dental X-rays are a quick, painless, and easy way to assess issues affecting teeth. They provide invaluable information for diagnosing dental problems, planning appropriate treatments, and checking healing progress after invasive procedures. However, radiation safety is a complex issue that requires balancing potential harm against practical considerations.

The doses for most individual dental X-rays might be exceedingly low, but all radiation doses are cumulative. Such incremental exposure may jeopardize health over the long term by adding to a dental patient’s Lifetime Attributable Cancer Risk (LAR).

Recent studies examining the risks and trends indicate that in the US, nearly 1,000 cases of cancer per year may result from dental radiography. The majority of these were entirely avoidable. Radiation protection helps to minimize the risks of dental X-rays.  


Understanding the Importance of Dental X-Rays

Only the crown portions of teeth protrude above the gumline (supragingival). About two-thirds lies below the gumline (subgingival). Dental X-rays provide detailed images of conditions of the roots, jawbones, nerves, and sinuses that are invisible to the naked eye. An estimated 45% of all dental visits require the patient to undergo some form of radiography.

The following table shows commonly used dental X-rays:

The Different Types of Dental X-Rays
(in millisieverts)
Intraoral X-Rays
A section of upper and lower teeth, usually excluding roots.
– Detect caries, infections, and bone loss.
– Assess fillings and restorations.
– See how teeth line up.
0.001 to 0.005 mSv
One or two entire teeth from crown to root tip.
– Detect caries, infections, and bone loss.
– Examine the path of the root canal.
0.005 to 0.01 mSv
Mouth roof or floor, plus arch of upper or lower teeth.
– Locate extra or unerupted teeth.
– Examine a jaw fracture or cleft palate.
– Detect cysts, abscesses, growths, and salivary stones.
0.005 to 0.01 mSv
Extraoral X-Rays
All teeth, maxilla, mandible, temporomandibular joints, and sinuses.
– Plan dentures, braces, implants, and extractions.
– Measure the gonial angle of the mandible.
0.006 to 0.039 mSv
Anterior or lateral view of the entire head.
– Evaluate relationships between teeth, jaws, and cranial base.
– Plan orthodontic treatment.
0.02 to 0.1 mSv
Cone Beam CT (CBCT):
3-D imaging of dental structures and tissues.
– Identify any maxillofacial pathology in detail.
– Pinpoint lesions or anomalies.
0.01 to 0.36 mSv


How Do Dental X-Rays Work?

Dental X-rays have come a long way from the days when you had to wait for film to be processed and developed. The most striking technological advances include low-dose pulsed X-ray beams, digital sensors, imaging software, and digital storage.

Here’s a simplified overview of what happens during the digital imaging process:

  1. X-ray generation: The X-ray tube cathode emits electrons that are accelerated under high voltage to collide with a tungsten anode, thus producing X-rays.
  2. Interaction with tissues: The X-rays pass through the target area where they are absorbed by hard tissues (~90%) or transmitted by soft tissues (~10%).
  3. X-ray detection: The remaining X-rays impinge on the sensor placed on the exit side of the target area.
  4. Image formation: The sensor sends an electronic signal to the computer, which converts it into a crisp, clear image displayed on the monitor.
  5. Visualization: The resultant image can be enlarged or filtered to provide more detail.


What are the Risks of Dental X-Rays?

What happens if you get an X-ray without protection? The truth is that no dose of ionizing radiation is completely safe. During the imaging process, a tiny fraction of X-rays get deflected off the patient in an effect called Compton scattering. Exposure to this secondary scatter radiation can have detrimental health consequences, either by random chance (stochastic effects) or from long-term exposure (deterministic effects).  

Extensive studies indicate a significant correlation between dental X-rays and brain tumors, thyroid cancer, tumors of the head and neck areas, leukemia, low birth weight, cataracts, skin damage, and the list goes on. Recent research even hypothesizes that low-dose imaging could be a risk factor for neurodegenerative conditions such as sporadic dementia and motor-neuron disease! (Source: C Rodgers (2020) “Low-dose X-ray imaging may increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.”)

To mitigate possible risks, dental practitioners should adhere vigilantly to strict imaging protocols and safety measures, including the use of radiation protection products.


Why Do You Need Radiation Protection During Dental X-Rays?

You shouldn’t perform or undergo a dental X-ray without a lead apron and thyroid protection. Listed below are reasons why this is the best practice in all dental facilities:

  • To minimize radiation exposure.
  • To prevent cellular and genetic damage.
  • To protect vulnerable cohorts.
  • To fulfill your ethical responsibility.
  • To comply with current guidelines and recommendations.

Barrier Technologies® manufactures and supplies the highest quality dental radiation protective products. Trust our expert suggestions, as follows:


#1. Radiation Protection For Dental Practitioners

  • Lead or lead equivalent aprons: Choose from our premium frontal, wraparound, or vest and skirt sets in 0.35 or 0.5 mm lead equivalence (LE).
  • Thyroid shields: Options include our boomerang and visor styles with 0.5 mm LE. We also offer a disposable visor for maximum convenience.
  • Other accessories: Supplement your basic apron and thyroid shield with leaded eyewear, gloves, sleeves, caps, and more. Please refer to our latest catalogs to see all our offerings.


#2. Radiation Protection For Patients

  • Dental aprons: Our patient aprons combine protection of the anterior torso and thyroid gland. The carefully designed neck won’t interfere with the field of view.
  • A special note: We advise that no patients undergo dental X-rays while pregnant without a shield. Furthermore, pediatric, immuno-compromised, and patients with pre-existing health conditions should be well protected.


Get Yourself the Right Protection for Dental X-Rays From Barrier Technologies!

Are you prioritizing radiation protection during your use of dental X-rays? We understand that you need to weigh the detection of hidden dental problems against the equally invisible dangers of scatter radiation. However, your commitment to safety should override all other considerations.

We urge all dental practitioners to implement appropriate measures to protect themselves and those in their care. Getting the right dental radiation-protective apparel and accessories will help you optimize your use of diagnostic imaging while minimizing the health risks associated with radiation exposure.

As your radiation protection specialist, Barrier Technologies promotes safe practices while providing the finest protective gear available. Let’s make radiation protection a primary concern in all dental care facilities! Contact us today to find out how we can assist you.