How Safe are Dental X-Rays?

Rumors have been circulating for years about dental x-rays and their propensity for causing brain cancer. Countless studies have been done on this subject, many of them directed at children, and the findings are fairly conclusive that the benefit of x-rays outweighs the risks. The American Dental Association (ADA) has taken this information and set forth guidelines regarding the frequency of dental x-rays and in what situations a dentist should administer one.

Why do Children Need Dental X-Rays?
Kids actually need dental x-rays more often than adults do. As they grow, their jaw and tooth structure change and need to be monitored. Dental injuries that require repair are more common among children. They also have a higher incidence of cavities and oral infections than adults do, and these situations need to be monitored. The risk of allowing an infection to go untreated far outweighs the risk of cancer when it comes to dental x-rays. The ADA recommends that children have a dental x-ray once a year to detect any problems that may be occurring.

What are the Risks?
Having an x-ray exposes a person to radiation for a very brief amount of time. Radiation increases the risk of cancer, especially in those who undergo prolonged exposure.There is a slightly increased risk for developing a type of brain cancer for those who frequently undergo dental x-rays. The exposure to radiation during a dental x-ray is slight, though, less than that experienced from exposure to the sun or on an airplane. Other types of cancer, such as thyroid cancer, could be a risk as well, but steps are taken to eliminate these risks.

Reducing the Risks
Your dentist’s office has taken several precautions to reduce the risk of cancer when taking dental x-rays. A lead shield is placed over the patient’s neck and torso to protect the thyroid and vital organs. A digital x-ray machine has been developed that produces images using a significantly reduced amount of radiation.

Although the ADA recommends having dental x-rays done once a year, if you are worried about the risk to your child, you can opt to have them done less often. Though they are helpful at catching problems early on, x-rays are only absolutely necessary when a cavity or infection is suspected or when orthodontic work or dental repair is needed. Avoiding x-rays altogether is not the safest option for your child, however, as this puts them at risk for persistent infection and other dental problems.


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