Why would you need a dental x-ray?
In most cases you take a dental x-ray to diagnose the cause of symptoms which cannot be seen by eye. And to monitor periodontal (gum) disease. The x-ray enables the dentist to give advice and/or appropriate treatment options.
As with all x-rays, there is the risk of exposure to radiation. Dentists suggest an x-ray exam only when the risk of not having the exam outweighs this risk.
So before having the x-ray your dentist will do a thorough clinical examination. And the smallest number of radiographs (x-rays) taken to minimise radiation exposure.
How much radiation are we talking about?
When x-rays are taken, the body absorbs some of the radiation produced. This is known as the "radiation dose".
Radiation doses are counted in units of millisievert (mSv). And also in the equivalent number of years of background radiation. We are all exposed to background radiation every day. It comes from our surroundings, such as rock, earth, building materials and the sun. Some radiation also comes from the food we eat.
For a routine bitewing x-ray, the exposure would be 0.005mSv. This is equivalent to one day of average natural background radiation. The radiation dose used is subject to both national regulations and departmental procedures. The equipment used should be pre-set to the minimum level. All our equipment should be routinely maintained. Its settings should be tested for accuracy. If you are concerned about having an x-ray please talk to your dentist so they can help.
What if you're pregnant?
Most dental x-ray films capture an area away from the pelvic region and do not pose a risk.
But in some cases an x-ray film may need to be taken that directly exposes the pelvic region. Your dentist will ask you are or may be pregnant if he/she deems this necessary. Your dentist will discuss the risks and benefits with you. And will record the conversation in your notes.