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Dental X-Ray

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This page describes dental x-rays and how they are used in a dentist office.

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Overview

Approximately 100 MILLION dental x-rays are done each year in the United States. Dental x–rays provide your dentist with a vital tool that shows the condition of your teeth including roots, jaw placements, and the overall composition of your facial bones.

In a dentist's office you are most likely to encounter radiation from a diagnostic x-ray. X-rays pass more easily through the soft tissues of our bodies than through our bones and organs. After passing through our body, x-rays strike a special x-ray film, creating an image showing shadows where our bones, organs and other dense masses, like teeth, have absorbed x-rays.

Like microwaves, radio waves, and visible light, the x-rays produced by an x-ray machine are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Unlike microwaves, radio waves, and visible light, x-rays are ionizing radiation, which is capable of removing electrons from atoms and damaging living cells and the DNA of those cells. However, since x-ray machines only produce radiation during operation and the amount of radiation used is small, resulting medical problems are unlikely.

Dental x-rays are usually conducted to:

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Who is protecting you

The States

State radiation programs, in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), regulate, register, and inspect x-ray equipment used in medical, dental, and veterinary procedures.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

While the states regulate use of x-ray equipment, FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) regulates the manufacturing of electronic radiation-emitting products.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The mission of NIST is to develop and promote measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. Although a non-regulatory federal agency, NIST makes x-ray machines safer for patients and workers by updating the technology and measurement standards upon which x-ray machines are based.

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What you can do to protect yourself

Only trained and qualified persons should operate x-ray machines. You can best protect yourself by only having x-ray procedures performed by qualified personnel. You should follow any instructions given by your dentist. To prevent any unnecessary exposures, a lead apron may be used to shield the parts of your body not being x-rayed. Tell your dentist if you are pregnant, might be pregnant, or are nursing.

Finally, before having an x-ray, if you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist.

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Resources

Oral Health Topics A-Z: X-Rays (Radiographs) exit EPA
April 5, 2012. American Dental Association
This page provides answers to frequently asked questions about dental x-rays.
Gamma Rays
April 5, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
On this page, you can learn about rays that are similar to x-rays, called “gamma rays.” You can learn how these two kinds of rays are alike and how they are different.
Ionizing and Non-Ionizing Radiation
April 5, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page offers basic information on ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
Radiation Control: Ionizing Radiation Machines (X-ray)
April 5, 2012. Florida Department of Health
On this page, you can learn about x-ray machines and radiation safety.
State Radiation Protection Programs exit EPA
April 5, 2012. Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors
This page gives information on state radiation protection programs. Here you can learn they help protect patients from unnecessary exposure from x-ray machines.
The Selection of Patients for X-Ray Examinations: Dental Radiographic Examinations
April 5, 2012. U.S. Food and Drug Administration
This document helps doctors on how to best treat each patient regarding dental x-rays.
We Want You to Know About X-Rays: Get the Picture on Protection
April 5, 2012. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Radiation-Emitting Products
This page offers information on the risks and benefits of medical x-rays, as well as information on what you should know before having an x-ray.

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