Radiation Information (An X-ray Say-Hey!)

It’s always in the news, always on TV.  They tell you to be careful and smart about exposure to radiation, and ask questions.  We agree. Here is some information that will help you be careful, and ask the right questions.

What is radiation, you ask?  Radiation is a form of energy in waves.  It exists on a broad spectrum, from low-frequency waves like radio waves and microwaves, to high-frequency waves like Gamma rays and X-rays. Radiation includes things such as light and radio waves.

In our context, we use “ionoizing radiation”, which means radiation that can pass through matter, and cause the matter to become electrically charged, or “ionized”.  An X-ray is really like a super-charged flashlight that passes through the subject matter, and leaves a shadow image on the film or the sensor.  Does anyone remember putting a flashlight right against your hand, and seeing the shadow of the bones in your hand? Kind of like that.  Only a lot more scientific!

We all encounter radiation each day as a matter of course from a variety of sources.  According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the average American is exposed to about 6 milliSieverts (mSv) of radiation annually.  A Sievert is a unit of measurement used to measure radiation energy exposure.  A milliSeivert (mSv) is 1/1000 of a Sievert.  A typical digital dental X-ray provides 0.005 mSv of radiation.  That means you could have 1200 digital dental Xrays before you reach the amount of exposure we get EVERY YEAR just by living on planet Earth!  
A plane flight from NYC to Los Angeles gives you .04 mSv, or 80 times more than a typical digital dental X-ray. Mowing your lawn on a sunny day gives you more radiation than an annual set of 4 digital dental Bitewing X-rays. And we mow our yards how many times in a year?  And did you know that a fraction of potassium (a mineral we need for normal body function) is radioactive.  A banana can contain 0.0001 mSv, or 1/10,000th of a mSv.  There are radioactive compounds in soil, concrete, brick and stone.  There is radiation from outside of our atmosphere that can penetrate high-altitude places. Radon gas in homes and soil is one of the largest contributors known to contribute to background radiation.

According to the World Nuclear Association, annual exposure to 100mSv of radiation or greater caries a small but measurable increase in risk of cancer.  But below that level, the body’s cells can mitigate and heal any damage due to enzyme systems in the human body that repair damage from low-level radiation.

Dental Xray Safety and Considerations: Dental radiation technology is constantly improving, and the newest digital dental Xray systems have reduced the amount of radiation necessary to expose dental Xrays by tremendous amounts over that last 20 years.  A full digital panoramic X-ray is now equivalent to just 3 single shot exposures.  Digital Xrays have reduced the amount of a single exposure to less than 15% of that from 20 years ago, and new digital sensors reduce exposure to 12-18% of that. That means an overall reduction in radiation down to 2-3% of what was used just 20 years ago. That is nearly a 500% reduction! That is amazing!  And the computer software can then enhance and clarify the readings to give us myriad more information than ever before.

Remember, we only take the dental Xray images that we feel are necessary to maintain your oral health.  The benefit of gathering the information from digital Xrays far outweighs the negligible risk

Ask us any questions you have when you are here, and we will do our best to answer them. And for more on this topic, scroll down to our previous entry called “Radiation Conversation”.

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Health Physics Society
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
World Nuclear Association
National Council of Radiation Protection and Measurements