First off, lets be clear about this: The Hulk suffered from side effects of being exposed to GAMMA rays, not X-Rays! As we are highlighting the awesomeness that is your West Seattle Dentist, Dr. Christine Kirchner, I am going to be writing about how she has a digital x-ray machine in her office. But we’ll cover that next week. This week, I’m going to give a little history of x-rays! I’m sure you’ve seen the shows and heard about the studies that say you WILL die if you get one x-ray in the dentist office, but I’m here to set the record straight.
X-rays were discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895. In 1913, William Coolidge invented the X-Ray tube, which basically made it possible to take an x-ray of a more specific area of the, well, anything. Since then, science has been able to harness this technology for use in all kinds of situations, including in the dental world. I think its important to note that in order to get a good x-ray picture back in the day, it was necessary to be exposed to x-radiation for hours. HOURS!
Fast forward to the 21st century, and science has made improvements by leaps and bounds. Now the exposure in the dental chair per x-ray snapped is generally less than half of a second! The films are small and flexible (as opposed to large and made of glass!) and usually, you only need around 4 films done a year, if that. While doing research for this post, I was surprised to find out that actually, x-radiation is all around us. There is no escaping it! We are primarily exposed all the time to naturally occurring radiation, with a tiny amount of exposure from man made sources like dental x-rays. Here are the numbers:
A unit called a “rem” is used to measure radiation. A rem is a large unit, kind of like a mile is a large unit of length, so we usually use a millirem (mrem) instead, much as you would measure in inches instead of miles for most purposes. (It takes 1000 mrem to equal one rem.)
According to many sources, including the American Nuclear Society, this is how much radiation you can expect to be exposed to from common activities:
620 mrem/year = the average level of radiation a person is exposed to in the US
1 mrem = two hours in a jet plane
7 mrem/year = from living in a brick house
10 mrem/year = cooking with natural gas
2 mrem/year = from sleeping next to someone else
36 mrem/year = from smoking one pack of cigarettes a day
42 mrem = breast mammogram per breast
700 mrem = abdominal x-ray
63 mrem/year = living in the Colorado Plateau area
0.5 mrem = one dental x-ray
Wait, did you see that? Let me list it one more time:
0.5 mrem = one dental x-ray
SO, even if you got a full series of x-rays, which is done once every 5 years, your exposure for dental x-rays for that whole year would be 9 mrem. That’s less than both cooking or living in a brick house!!
The amount of radiation (mrem) that you receive during dental x-rays is very small, TINY in fact, when compared to other sources of radiation in everyday life!
So why are x-rays needed anyway? During an exam, Dr. Kirchner can only see what you can see, the surfaces of the teeth and your gums. X-rays allow her to see small cavities that are developing in between the teeth. If she didn’t take x-rays and we waited around until we could see these tiny cavities, typically the tooth may already be to the point where it needs a crown, root canal, or may even need to be extracted! Doing x-rays routinely, which in our office usually works out to about 6 films a year, helps Dr. Kirchner diagnose small cavities and stop them before they become bigger and more costly problems. Remember here people, being conservative is the name of the game.
Want to find out how much mrem is in each digital x-ray( I’ll give you a hint, its smaller than 0.5 mrem!)? Check back next week to find out about the digital x-ray machine that Dr. Kirchner uses!