Are Orthodontic X-Rays Safe?
There used to be an almost endless stream of news stories about how unsafe x-rays are, specifically orthodontic x-rays. Many people read stories from their friends on social media about the damage that x-rays were doing to their body. Some mothers swore off x-rays entirely, claiming that even the low levels of radiation were dangerous for their children. Many people still believe this and refuse to get the x-rays that they need in order to start orthodontic treatment.
Are orthodontic x-rays safe?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: absolutely, yes.
The amount of radiation you get from an orthodontic x-ray is .010 millisierverts, which is only a little more than the radiation you receive just walking around outside in the sun during a normal day. If you are outside for any concerted period of time, you will be getting more radiation from the sun and from the environment around you than you get from one of these x-rays.
What most people fail to understand is that radiation is everywhere. We think of it as this very dangerous thing, because radiation in general is tied to radiation poisoning, but low level radiation is a part of our everyday lives, and it does no harm to us in that everyday life.
Those who believe that orthodontic x-rays are unsafe will say that no level of radiation is safe and that exposure to radiation is cumulative, meaning that the more radiation you get throughout your life, the greater effect it could have on you later in life. During childhood and young adulthood, when the body’s cells are still dividing quickly, is when radiation can be the most harmful to a person. There is a concern that the radiation being shot directly at the individual’s thyroid gland is dangerous and could eventually lead to thyroid cancer (though no link has been made between orthodontic x-rays and thyroid cancer). But, again, the levels of radiation in these x-rays is equal to the radiation a person experiences during a normal day. And most orthodontist use a lead apron that protects the chest and the neck during these x-rays.
Your orthodontist is not giving you an x-ray just to give you an x-rays. Orthodontic x-rays are an integral part of any treatment. Not only do they give the orthodontist a much better idea of the mouth’s condition and what steps need to be taken to improve a bite and align the teeth, they also help the orthodontist ensure that all of the adult teeth have come in and that wisdom teeth are not going to be a problem for the patient. These x-rays are a necessity, before any kind of orthodontic treatment can be rendered.
Of course, if you are wary of x-rays, you should only get the x-rays that you absolutely need. When you are being evaluated by an orthodontist, an x-ray is necessary. There are a huge variety of benefits of these x-rays, and not just for your orthodontist. Dentists use the same types of x-rays to find tooth decay in areas where it might be hiding (like under old filings or in between teeth), and to watch for bone loss that might be an accompanying factor to gum disease.
They are necessary for making some of the biggest decisions that have to do with a patient’s health. And while they are perfectly safe (every office uses an x-ray machine that uses the lowest possible radiation levels in order to get a good picture of the teeth), there is no reason to get more x-rays than you need. You should discuss with your orthodontist the frequency of these x-rays. Many patients will only need one x-ray at the beginning of their treatment. Some orthodontist might want an additional x-ray at the end of the treatment, just to make sure that the treatment has been completely successful.
If you have a complicated case, you may need more x-rays over the course of your treatment than a patient who has a simple case.
Are there times when you should be wary of x-rays? Only when those x-rays are being taken just to milk you for money. In most cases, there is no reason to have an orthodontic x-ray every six months. This is far too often for the average patient and could be a sign that an unscrupulous office is just trying to get more money for your treatment. Discuss with your orthodontist what the necessity of the x-rays are, even if they only recommend that you have one at the beginning of your treatment.
While your insurance plan likely covers your x-rays, this does not mean that you have to get one every single time a dentist or orthodontist tells you to get one. If you are really trying to reduce your exposure to radiation, not having unnecessary x-rays can be a good place to start.
That said, here in our office, Drs. Pale, Gemmi, & Middleberg are not going to recommend that you get x-rays that you do not need. They are an important part of the treatment process and they help us ensure that you are going to get the very best care. We use only the most advanced machines, that use the lowest levels of radiation, which are perfectly safe.
Many people worry that they are being bombarded with high levels of radiation that they only experience during an x-ray. So, unless you are getting an x-ray every single day of your life (and therefore doubling the amount of radiation you get in your lifetime), having an orthodontic x-ray is perfectly safe.
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