X-Rays, Flying and Colorado


“I don’t want my child to have any x-rays!”

“I think my child is getting too many x-rays and I’m worried about radiation”

These are just a few of the comments that we hear on a daily basis at our practice. Parents are extremely concerned about the amount of radiation that their child is being exposed to, and instead of running from these important questions , our practice welcomes them and we spend a lot of time discussing their concerns.

digital-dental-x-ray-of-human-jawParents, like most individuals, have heard about the dangers of excessive exposure to radiation.  They have most certainly heard about the high levels of exposure when taking a chest x-ray, CAT scan, or MRI.  They have probably also heard that radiation exposure accumulates over a lifetime; hence, the more one is exposed, the greater the amount of lifetime accumulation.

The simplest explanation I usually give parents is that the amount of radiation a bite-wing x-rays  emits is extremely , extremely low – about 20 times less than that of a chest x-ray and 1000x less than a CT scan.  One of the more important things to consider is that we are all exposed to radiation from natural sources all the time.  The average person in the U.S. receives an effective dose of 3 mSv (millisieverts is the scientific unit for radiation dose) from naturally occurring radioactive materials and cosmic radiation.

Radiation Type                                          Radiation Amount

Daily background radiation                     0.008 mSv

Single Digital Bitewing                              0.005 mSv

Digital Panorex                                             0.01 mSv

Cross Country Flight                                   0.03 mSv

Chest X-ray                                                    0.1 mSv

Chest CT                                                          7 mSv

Head CT                                                           2 mSv

To put things in perspective, a single typical dental x-ray is less than a day of usual background radiation, and a panoramic x-ray is 3 times less than flying a plane cross country. One chest CT is the equivalent of 1400 dental x-rays.  In fact, if one lived in higher altitudes such as in Colorado, you areSamolet-13 exposed to 50% (1.5 mSv) more background radiation than those of us at sea level (that’s the equivalent of 300 dental x-rays for those of you keeping count). Click here  for more information.

The takeaway from this data and the multitude of studies done on x-ray safety is one should not worry about the amount of exposure one gets from dental x-rays.  As shown, the amount of exposure is low, and the estimated additional risk of developing cancer as a result is negligible.

All things in life are about considering the cost:benefit ratio. The cost of not taking a dental x-ray is the inability to diagnose disease (dental caries) Lemieux-Dental-Decayand allowing it to progress to a point where one is put at risk of pain, localized and systemic infection, and extensive treatment which could have been avoided.  The cost of taking an x-ray is…..well, as we have seen, is less than a day outside. One should note that people who live in Colorado get 50% more background radiation than those of us in Boston, are deemed some of the healthiest people in the United States, with cancer rates not being any higher.

Certainly, if you do have concerns about the need to take x-rays, I would encourage you to speak with us.  There is a recommended schedule for taking x-rays – the key word here is recommended. There are certainly reasonable cases to be made for not taking x-rays routinely (ie. low caries risk, exfoliating baby teeth) which should be made on a case to case basis.