Are dental X-rays dangerous?

By September 20, 2011 No Comments

Every six months like clockwork, Melissa O’Brien, a freelance writer in Kennesaw, Georgia, takes her two children, Alexandra and Evan, to the dentist for a cleaning. They’re nearly perfect patients — Alexandra, 13, has no cavities, and Evan, 10, has had only one — but O’Brien suspects she may not be the dentist’s favorite mom, because when the dentist suggests X-rays, O’Brien sometimes says no, and she can tell that doesn’t sit well.

“I usually get a hard time from the dentist, like I’m a bad mother or something,” she says. “Maybe I’m being silly as a parent. Maybe it’s such a minute amount of radiation, but I think, my kid is going to get how many X-rays in his life, and if I can prevent some of them why not do it?”

Maybe she is being silly — but maybe not. It’s impossible to tell, because there are no good studies showing the right number of X-rays to give someone who isn’t having any particular dental problem. While some dentists do bitewing X-rays every six months on a healthy patient, others hardly ever do them, relying instead on a visual examination of the mouth with a sharp explorer and a mirror.

It’s an important question, since dental X-rays are the only form of medical radiation received on a regular basis by large numbers of American men, women, and children.

“It’s crazy,” says Dr. Nicholas Dello Russo, an instructor in the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Harvard University School of Dental Medicine. “We’re doing an experiment on a vast number of people in this country and we have no idea how it will play out in the next 15 or 20 years.”

Worries about children, thyroid cancer

Like many medical procedures, dental X-rays have an upside and a downside. The upside is that an X-ray allows your dentist to see bones, tissue, and hidden surfaces of your teeth that he or she can’t see with the naked eye. ...read more

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