A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences concludes that low-doses of radiation from medical and dental X-rays, natural and other manmade sources pose some risk for cancer but that risk is small and shouldn't keep people from seeking care.
The American Dental Association recommends that dentists consider exposure risk in diagnosing oral diseases and conditions.
"The dentist must weigh the benefits of taking dental radiographs against the risk of exposing a patient to X-rays, the effects of which accumulate from multiple sources over time," says the ADA and Food and Drug Administration Guide to Patient Selection for Dental Radiographs.
"The dentist, knowing the patient's health history and vulnerability to oral disease, is in the best position to make this judgment in the interest of each patient," the guidelines say.
According to the ADA, many diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissues cannot be seen when your dentist examines your mouth without X-rays. An X-ray may reveal:
- small areas of decay between the teeth or below existing fillings;
- infections in the bone;
- periodontal disease;
- abscesses or cysts;
- developmental abnormalities;
- some types of tumors.
When dental X-rays pass through your mouth during a dental exam, more X-rays are absorbed by the denser parts (such as teeth and bone) than by soft tissues (such as cheeks and gums) before striking the film.
How often X-rays should be taken depends on the patient's individual health needs. Your dentist will review your history, examine your mouth and then decide whether you need radiographs and what type. If you are a new patient, the dentist may recommend radiographs to determine the present status of the hidden areas of your mouth and to help analyze changes that may occur later. If you have had recent radiographs at your previous dentist, your new dentist may ask you to have the radiographs forwarded.
In its recent findings, the National Academies' National Research Council states that low doses of radiation pose some risk for cancer, but the risk is small.
"It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced, but at low doses the number of radiation-induced cancers will be small," said the panel, adding that more research is needed in medical and occupational radiation.
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