Having a dental X-ray taken does expose you to a tiny amount of radiation, but you’re more at risk of developing cancer by a number of other means.
The waves of energy that make up X-rays and gamma-rays are known to cause cancer when someone is exposed to them in large quantities. However, you should not worry about the amount of exposure you or your family members receive from X-rays at the dentist’s office. Of the X-rays and gamma-rays we are exposed to on a regular basis, the amount in a dental X-ray is not actually considered a health risk. Your dentist has your dental care as their greatest concern, which is why X-rays of your teeth are a necessary part of a dentist’s visit. Taking a look at the cancer risks produced by radiation exposure, there are a variety of other sources of X-rays that you should worry more about.
Risk vs. Reward
In instances where the benefits of a small amount of exposure will outweigh the risk, we often intentionally expose ourselves to things that can cause cancer. When you consider dental X-rays, the reward of better dental care definitely outweighs this small risk.
As an example, consider that fluoride is a known carcinogen, but small amounts of fluoride in water is accepted as both safe and beneficial to your oral hygiene. That is to say, while large amounts of fluoride can be dangerous, in small amounts the benefits far outweigh the risk. This is why we supplement our public water with it.
How Risky is X-Ray Exposure?
The radiation in X-rays and gamma-rays is measured in units of millirem (mrem). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, exposure to 10,000 mrem would only increase your chances of cancer by 1%. The National Council on Radiation Protection notes that natural sources like outer space, radioactive material in the earth, and small amounts of radioactive material in most foods collectively expose us to about 370 mrem each year. Simply living in high mountain areas such as Denver or Salt Lake City exposes a person to about 50 mrem a year.
What Am I Exposed to During a Dental X-Ray?
A dental X-ray exposes a person to between 2 and 3 mrem. That means living at high altitudes exposes you to 18 to 25 times more mrem than X-rays at the dentist while a pack of cigarettes exposes you to 29 and 43 times more mrem. In other words, a dental X-ray exposes us to an incredibly small amount of radiation.
So, while X-ray and gamma-ray exposure is not a completely good thing, you should not believe rumors that X-rays at the dentist cause cancer. The simple fact is that if a person falls victim to cancer and the cause is radiation exposure, it is virtually impossible that the culprit is a dentist’s X-ray.
Do Digital X-Rays Expose Patients to Less Radiation?
It is true: new technology in the form of digital X-rays expose patients to less radiation than the amount expected from a traditional dental X-ray. Digital X-rays reduce radiation exposure by up to 80%, meaning that they expose you to even less than 1 mrem to minimize your risk of developing cancer.
Because using the latest technology improves the quality of our patient care, Arkansas Family Dental uses digital X-rays to monitor the development of your family’s teeth. If you are interested in digital X-rays, make an appointment with Arkansas Family Dental or call us at 501-683-8886 to learn more.