For the past two decades, the dental profession has increased efforts to protect patients from radiation exposure, including requiring them to wear lead aprons. But the most significant change, says Dr. Brian Gray of McDermott, Giannini, & Gray in DC, is the move from film to digital x-rays.
According to Yale Medical Group, 10 to 30 percent of dentists have switched to digital x-rays, which produce one-third to two-thirds the radiation exposure of traditional film. Gray says the amount a patient is exposed to during a full-mouth digital x-ray is about equal to that of one cross-country airplane flight.
“Radiation in general is not good,” he acknowledges. “But these days patients would need to be exposed to ten times the amount from dental x-rays to experience any real harm.”
4 millirems (mrems): Digital dental x-ray
18 mrems: Film dental x-ray
3 to 5 mrems: Flight from DC to Los Angeles
7 mrems: Living in a brick or concrete building for one year
30 to 70 mrems: Mammogram
300 mrems: One year of exposure to natural sources of radiation
8,000 mrems: Smoking 1½ packs of cigarettes a day for a year
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements