Almost every day someone asks me about the radiation coming from our dental xray system. It is understandable that our patients have this concern, after all, we hear on the news that we need to be careful about sun exposure and the need for sunblock, so be careful about the radiation that you can really control- xrays. First of all, let’s talk about how xray units are measured. I prefer using a term called ‘micro-sieverts’ which is 1/1000 of a milli-sievert as far as dosing is concerned. Example: A normal whole body CT scan when done at your local hospital can expose you to around 10,000 microsieverts. That’s a lot of radiation! However, the radiation output for the 3-D imaging in my own office is more like 400-1000 microsieverts- that is substantially lower than a whole body scan. I am actually being very conservative with my estimate because the manufacturer of my xray unit insists that the radiation output is really more like 200-400 microsieverts.
The funny thing about radiation output is that it all depends on who you talk to. So far, I have not met with any consistency in these estimates. Did you know that you are exposed to around 400 microsieverts EACH and EVERY year just from being in your own home? That’s right- building materials put out radiation to a fairly high level. And if you have granite countertops, these things put out more radiation than a whole year of dental xrays! So when it comes to xrays at my office, I do not worry too much about the patient’s exposure because it is generally very little compared to all the background radiation around them.
By the way, I just read a report by Spring Hatfield, a dental hygienist, who reports that we receive 30,000 microsieverts of radiation yearly just from our food! The radioactive foods and drinks we ingest include Brazil nuts, lima beans, bananas, white potatoes, carrots, red meat, beer, and the annual dose you receive from food is equal to about 60 dental X-rays. So if you want a good snack it might not be so wise to wash down those brazil nuts with a cold beer!
The really important message here is that radiation is cumulative. This means that the more exposure you get, the more likely you will end up with a health problem. Like all things, moderation is the best approach. So when you do need xrays, it is always wisest to work with a doctor who uses digital xrays to keep down the amount of radiation you will be exposed to.
As you can see, the above information is really just a guideline to the amount of radiation you are exposed to on a regular basis. We are all constantly exposed to this radiation and just have to make the most out of our situation by being wise with how many times we get xrays and paying attention to the types of exposure we will be experiencing. Additionally – I personally believe in keeping radiation exposure to the bare minimum with children because their bodies are still developing and I think it is important to not overly dose them with radiation, even though it is so very little. Every person’s body responds differently so keep this in mind.