SuperKids Team

Are Digital X-Rays Safer?

Digital x-rays provide a number of benefits over their traditional counterparts. But are they safer? The short answer is “Yes.” The long answer is much more interesting than you might think.

X-rays have been around an incredibly long time, but have gone under very few transformations over the years. That is, until digital x-rays (also known as digital Dental X - Rays) came along.

W.C. Röntgen is the “Father of the X-ray,” having reported his discovery of x-rays in December of 1895. Doctors and dentists began using x-rays for a wide variety of purposes as early as 1896. The first radiology clinic opened in Glasgow that year, for example, and carnival-goers could see an x-ray picture of their entire skeleton for the price of a ticket.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm for the newly-discovered technology led these early users to seriously underestimate the serious side effects associated with the radiation emitted by x-rays. The earliest reported side effects included serious eye and skin damage, and even leukemia.

Pediatric Dentist in Mt. Vernon Describes How Traditional X-rays Work

To understand the potential dangers of x-rays, it helps to understand how they work to create an image. An x-ray machine emits a small amount of radiation. Most of the radiation passes through the body and onto a special plate. When a great amount of radiation hits the plate, the resulting image looks dark gray or black. When very little radiation reaches the plate, the image is light gray or white.

Dense tissues, such as bones, absorb the radiation so that less of the x-ray reaches the plate. These tissues look white on the x-ray image. Air and less-dense tissues do not absorb much of the radiation, so these tissues look black on the x-ray image.

Mt. Vernon Pediatric Dentist Details How Traditional X-rays are Harmful

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation, similar to the visible light from the sun. Unlike sunlight, though, x-rays are high energy and can pass completely through the body – and cause damage along the way.

The energy of x-rays is also special in that it is ionizing radiation. As you may recall, molecules and atoms contain electrons, which are negatively-charged particles that balance out the positively-charged protons. Without electrons, the molecules or atoms would be out of balance due to an excessively positive charge.

Ionizing radiation removes electrons from everything it passes through, including water, air, and living tissue. Scientists refer to the loss of electrons as ionization. Ionizing radiation from x-rays poses a health risk because it has enough energy to damage DNA, which is the genetic material in living cells.

How Much Radiation in Traditional X - Rays?

The good news is that traditional x-rays do not expose you to too much radiation, although the amount you receive can combine with other sources of radiation to create damage over time.

Scientists measure doses of radiation in millirems (mrem). A single chest x-ray exposes the body to 2 mrem, for example, and an x-ray of the abdomen can expose the body to 70 mrem. A traditional dental x-ray, known as 4 bitewings, exposes the body to 0.4 mrem.

If 0.4 mrem doesn’t seem like much, it’s because it isn’t a significant amount of radiation exposure. In fact, we are exposed to much more radiation from everyday sources. Other sources of radiation include:

  • Radon, a radioactive gas found in rocks, soil and water, in homes (228 mrem)
  • Cosmic radiation (30 to 80 mrem), produced by the stars and our own sun
  • Terrestrial radiation (21 mrem), created by the natural breakdown of soil
  • Flying in an airplane (3.5 mrem)
  • Power lines, Wi-Fi, 5G technology, cell phones, cell phone towers and antennas, tanning beds, microwave ovens, and more

The real danger of radiation comes from its cumulative effect: we are bombarded with radiation every day, and having dental x-rays just adds to the amount of radiation in our bodies. In fact, the average person in the United States receives an annual radiation dose of 620 mrem.

While this is still a relatively low dose, it is important to minimize radiation exposure as much as possible.

Digital X - Rays are Safer – Here’s Why

The main reason digital x-rays are safer is because they expose the body to less radiation. More specifically, they reduce exposure by as much as 80 percent. This means that, compared with the 0.4 mrem given off by a traditional dental x-ray, a digital dental x-ray can give off as little as 0.1 mrem.

Digital x-rays are safer for other reasons too. For example, the images are immediately available, so the technicians and radiologists can determine right away if they need to re-take the image.

The images captured by digital x-rays are clearer than those created by traditional dental x-rays. Digital x-ray machines, also known as digital radiography, use flat panel detectors instead of plates to capture the x-rays. Clearer images often result in better dental care and reduced risk of dental problems because they allow dentists to detect problems in their earliest stages, when they are usually the easiest to treat.

Digital X - Rays also improve care and safety by making it easier for your dentist to share information with specialists, as needed. This reduces that chances that you’ll have to take a new set of dental x-rays every time you see a different dentist.

Dental x-rays that use digital technology are also greener, in that traditional film x-rays use dangerous chemicals to process the images. Using environmentally-friendly technology helps keep everyone safer.

Where can I find a dentist near me who offers digital x-rays?

For more information on digital x-rays and how they can keep your family safer, consult with Superkids Pediatric Dentistry. Our team of pediatric dentists in the DC area can help you determine if digital x-rays are right for your family – just call one of our five convenient locations or send us a message. We can’t wait to meet you!

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We are excited to announce the GRAND OPENING of our fifth Superkids office in Mt Vernon, VA. Accepting new patients starting January 16th, 2023!

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