X-ray diagnostics have revolutionized our ability to detect early or hidden cavities, paving the way for better dental care. But x-ray exposure also increases health risks and requires careful usage, especially with children.
A form of invisible radiation, x-rays penetrate and pass through organic tissue at varying rates depending on the density of the tissue. Denser tissues such as teeth or bone allow less x-rays to pass through, resulting in a lighter image on exposed film; less dense tissues allow more, resulting in a darker image. This differentiation enables us to identify cavities between the teeth — which appear as dark areas on the lighter tooth image — more readily than sight observation or clinical examination at times.
But excessive exposure of living tissue to x-ray radiation can increase the risk of certain kinds of cancer. Children in particular are more sensitive than adults to radiation exposure because of their size and stage of development. Children also have more of their lifespan in which radiation exposure can manifest as cancer.
Because of these risks, we follow an operational principle known as ALARA, an acronym for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” In other words, we limit both the amount and frequency of x-ray exposure to just what we need to obtain the information necessary for effective dental care. It’s common, for example, for us to use bitewing radiographs, so named for the tab that attaches the exposable film to a stem the patient bites down on while being x-rayed. Because we only take between two and four per session, we greatly limit the patient’s exposure to x-rays.
Recent advances in high-speed film and digital equipment have also significantly reduced x-ray exposure levels. The average child today is exposed to just 2-4 microsieverts during an x-ray session — much less than the 10 microsieverts of background radiation we all are exposed to in the natural environment every day.
Regardless of the relative safety of modern radiography, we do understand your concerns for your child’s health. We’re more than happy to discuss these risks and how they can be minimized while achieving maximum benefits for optimum dental health. Our aim is to provide your child with the highest care possible at the lowest risk to their health.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays in dentistry, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “X-Ray Safety for Children.”