If you need a more accessible version of this website, click this button on the right.Switch to Accessible Site

Dr. David Ward | Dental Xrays How Safe and Neccessary? in Big Spring


1500 Scurry St.
Big Spring TX 79720

(432) 267-1677

Family, Sedation & Laser Dentistry; Orthodontics; Implants

Dental Xrays How Safe and Neccessary?

Dental X-Rays: How Safe and Necessary?

A study was reported in the news recently that dental x-rays may increase the risk of a certain kind of brain tumor called meningioma. This has caused concern for many people and it brings up the important questions of safety and necessity of dental x-rays.

Why are x-rays taken? Whether dental x-rays or medical x-rays and CT scans, radiation is used to see things that we can’t see otherwise, at least without surgery. The ability to treat medical or dental problems early, conservatively, and effectively is greatly enhanced by the ability to take x-rays and scans that produce radiation. You would not want to go back to a world without diagnostic x-rays.

Are x-rays safe? Well, yes and no. Radiation damage to the body is cumulative, it adds up. We should not expose ourselves to unnecessary radiation. That being said, I get dental x-rays, an occasional chest x-ray, or any other scan that my physician tells me I really need. The reason is that the ability to treat problems early is worth the slight risk of the radiation.

Why do I need dental x-rays since dental problems are not life threatening? Well, sometimes dental problems are life threatening whether due to severe infection or cancers of the jawbone which occasionally are discovered. Even if not life threatening, dental problems can be amongst the most painful conditions that people have to endure, on the same pain level as kidney stones and child birth (ouch). The more common benefits are to be able to catch cavities before they get large and expensive to fix, to evaluate anatomy before surgery, and to catch periodontal disease (gum and jawbone disease) before the patient ends up needing dentures.

How risky are dental x-rays? The study that has been quoted recently has the problem that it is relying on adult’s memories of their childhood x-ray type and frequency. This isn’t a very reliable way to do a study. That being said, there is reason for concern. The good news is that there is far less radiation involved in dental x-rays today than when the study reaches back to. Modern x-ray films require less than half the radiation of “the old days” when the people in this study received their childhood radiation. The digital (film-less) dental x-rays that many of us now use produce only about one tenth of the radiation compared to the films of 30 years ago.

How often do I need dental x-rays? The answer to that question depends on the person. Whenever you see a new dentist for the first time, they will need current x-rays then or from your previous dentist.

This will normally consist of a panoramic x-ray and bitewings or a full set on individual “periapicals”.

People who are having few new cavities or periodontal disease issues don’t need x-rays as often as those who do. These dentally healthy folks may only need x-rays of each area every few years.

Unfortunately, since cavities and gum problems don’t produce any symptoms until severe, you don’t know your own status ahead of time. People who are having a lot of cavities or who are suffering bone destruction from periodontal disease usually need to be some (usually bitewing) x-rays yearly to be able to treat the problems appropriately.

Children often are in this category because cavities penetrate baby teeth very quickly. In summary, it’s okay to ask your dentist, or physician, if you really need that x-ray and maybe even delay it. If you, however, totally decline to have x-rays ever taken, you’ll probably be looking for a new doctor.

A doctor can’t be responsible for his patient’s health if needed diagnostic information is no obtainable. Dr. David Ward has practiced comprehensive family dentistry in Big Spring since 1988. This article and all  his others on all aspects of dental health and treatment are available on his website www.DavidWardDDS.com.