ADA: Dental X-Rays Important to Detect and Treat Oral Health Problems

The ADA urges patients to continue to see their dentist regularly and to talk with their dentist about the importance of X-rays and what standard safety precautions are used in the dental office.

While a recent study suggests that yearly or more frequent X-rays may increase the risk of developing meningioma, the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor, the ADA reiterates its professional opinion that dentists should order X-rays when necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Since many oral diseases cannot be detected by just a visual or physical examination X-rays are a valuable preventive tool to help dentists detect oral health problems early. X-rays provide information about a patients’ oral health, such as early-stage cavities, gum disease, infections or some types of tumors. How often dental X-rays should be taken depends on the patient’s oral health condition, age, risk for disease and any signs and symptoms of oral disease that the patient might be experiencing.

It is important to note that this latest study relied on patients’ memories of having X-rays taken years earlier. Studies of this type have shown that the ability to accurately recall information is often difficult. Therefore, the results of studies that use this design can be unreliable because they are affected by what scientists call “recall bias.”

Further, the study acknowledges that some of the subjects received dental X-rays decades ago when radiation exposure was greater. Radiation rates were higher in the past due to the use of old X-ray technology and slower speed form. The ADA encourages further research in the interest of patient safety.

Patient Safety

The ADA recommends the use of protective aprons and thyroid collars on all patients. In addition, the ADA recommends that dentists use E or F speed film, the two fastest film speeds available, or a digital X-ray.

Patients are encouraged to talk to their dentist if they have questions about their dental treatment. As a science-based organization, the ADA fully supports continuing research that helps dentists deliver high-quality oral health care safely and effectively.

The Benefits of Dental X-Rays

Since many diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissues cannot be seen when your dentist examines your mouth, an X-ray can help reveal:

  • small areas of decay between the teeth or existing fillings;
  • infections in the bone;
  • gum disease;
  • abscesses or cysts;
  • developmental abnormalities;
  • some types of tumors.

Finding and treating dental problems early can save time, money and unnecessary discomfort. X-rays can help your dentist detect problems in your mouth that otherwise would not be seen.

Dental X-Rays vs. Other Radiation Sources

The amount of radiation that we are exposed to from dental X-rays is very small compared to our daily exposure from cosmic radiation and naturally occurring radioactive elements.

Radiation exposure is measured in millisieverts (mSv), a unit of measure that allows for some comparison between radiation sources that exposure the entire body (natural background radiation) and those that only expose a portion of the body (dental X-ray).

For example, a dental bitewing X-ray yields 0.038 mSv, compared to radiation from outer space yielding 0.510 mSv per year. In addition, the average radiation in the U.S. from natural sources each year is 3.0.

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