Reducing Your Radiation Risk at the Dentist

Plus—how much radiation you're exposed to on flights, when smoking, and more.

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

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