7

Although I had to take 5 this month on individual teeth, my dentist reassured me that with the current technology there is absolutely no risk and that I can take as many as I need.

If you search the web, you see lots of opinions about this so maybe people are misinformed. Recent research seems to indicate that there is a risk to develop tiroid or brain cancer.

So my question is basically in the title: Are dental X-Rays safe? Are there any studies that point the balance in a direction or the other?

  • 4
    My dentist says the same thing, before going out the door of the room, around the corner and then pressing the button... :) – DJohnM Sep 26 '13 at 19:08
  • 1
    It's worth noting that if the technician stayed in the same room, he or she would receive what is a safe single dose multiple times per day, five days per week. The cumulative total would not be safe. – Ladadadada Sep 27 '13 at 13:54
  • @Ladadadada: Of course. Cancer in the fingers of dentists who held the film in patient's mouth was one of the early indicators of the cancer danger of x-rays. It's just that the reassurance followed by removal from the vicinity is disconcerting... – DJohnM Sep 28 '13 at 16:27
  • @User58220: the thing that strikes me is this: while getting my x-ray I need to wear a lead neck band to protect my tiroid gland and a lead jacket for my vital organs. If this was so safe shouldn't I be taking the x-ray in my bikini? Ah... and I guess my brain isn't a vital organ because they didn't also give me a lead hat to wear. – Jahia Sep 28 '13 at 17:22
  • @Jahia you don't have to wear those, but many people complain if they're not provided. – wbeaty Oct 1 '13 at 8:03
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Dental X-rays are not 100% free of risk. However, they are very, very low risk. Given people take risks with radiation every day (going into the sun, eating bananas), it is reasonable to accept the risks of dental X-rays to gain the health benefits associated with their diagnostic abilities.

This xkcd info-graphic puts the risk in perspective - click to expand and then see dental Xrays at 5 µSv in the top corner):

XKCD Info-graphic


But what are the actual risks from these doses?

(Note: Some of these studies are dated - I would expect that modern technology, the amount of radiation required has been reduced and the ability to treat the malignancies has improved, making these over-estimates of the current risk levels.)

Our results indicate that in the UK about 0·6% of the cumulative risk of cancer to age 75 years could be attributable to diagnostic X-rays. This percentage is equivalent to about 700 cases of cancer per year.

  • A 1983 study in the UK suggested that, depending on the type of dental X-ray, the risk of fatal malignancy from dental x-rays is up to 1.3 per million, suggesting that accounted for no more than a total of three extra fatalities per year.

  • A 2004 study found the risk of getting an intercranial meningioma roughly doubled - remember this is from a relatively low base-rate).

0

Here's a good article about lethal risks, including radiation exposure:

OSU: Radiation and Risk

From the article:

List of equal risks, .0001% chance of dying:

  • Smoking 1.4 cigarettes (lung cancer)
  • Eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Spending 2 days in New York City (air pollution)
  • Driving 40 miles in a car (accident)
  • Flying 2500 miles in a jet (accident)
  • Canoeing for 6 minutes
  • Receiving 10 mR of radiation (cancer)

0.1mR = 1uSv, so twenty dental x-rays could go in the above list. Or, one dental x-ray is about as hazardous as 2mi of driving (car crash,) or eating a peanut-butter sandwich (colon cancer.)

Breathing air in NYC for a day is 10X more dangerous than a dental x-ray?!

  • Clearly you've never been to New York. – Shadur Oct 15 '13 at 20:34

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