Dental X-rays and Patient Safety

We’d like to give you a balanced perspective on the recent news coverage of Yale School of Medicine’s study of dental X-rays and meningioma, or brain tumors.

In the study, adult subjects relied on little accurate documentation except memory to recount the frequency of X-rays they received decades ago. At that time, dental X-rays were taken more frequently, at higher levels of radiation and without safety guards. We now use X-rays as a diagnostic tool only when there is adequate justification to do so.

Patient safety is of the highest concern to us and X-rays help us detect and treat problems at an early stage. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends X-rays for patients “only when necessary for diagnosis and treatment,” with exposure set at a level that is as low as reasonably achievable.

A microsievert is a unit that measures the biological effects of ionizing radiation. Dental X-rays range from 35-150 microsieverts, about one-tenth of the former level. Here are a few comparisons:

• Cross-country airplane flight: 30-40 microsieverts
• Medical X-rays (e.g, mammograms, chest) : 100-8,000 microsieverts
• Annual sunshine: 3000 microsieverts
• Annual cigarette smoking (at one pack/day): 80,000 microsieverts

An X-ray is the only way to detect certain issues and the benefits, in those instances, far outweigh the minimal risk. We make thoughtful choices everyday based on each individual patient’s profile and with professional consideration for the balance of benefit to risk.

We share your concern for the health and safety of your family and welcome your questions about X-rays and any other topic. Our interest is in helping you make informed decisions about your oral health care.