When my son and daughter were youngsters, once a year I'd have a disagreement with their pediatric dentist. He wanted to do routine annual X-rays, and I would protest because neither child ever had any cavities. His response: Dental X-rays are an important diagnostic tool, representing a small speck in the sea of radiation that we receive by inhabiting planet Earth.
It turns out we both were right. Dental X-rays are essential for detecting serious oral and systemic health problems, and generally the amount of radiation is very low. But new thinking on dental X-rays is that the "one size fits all" schedule is outdated.
"The notion of bite-wing X-rays every year and a full set of X-rays every three years for every patient should go in the garbage can," says Stuart White, a dentist and professor emeritus at the UCLA School of Dentistry. Instead, decisions should be made individually.
Emphasizing that "without dental X-rays we would go back 120 years, and disease detection would be primitive and awful," White says dentists must strive to minimize unnecessary exposure.
And this is where the discussion gets complicated because the amount of radiation you receive depends on how the dentist takes pictures of your teeth.
For example, if your dentist uses slow film and round collimation (the piece of equipment placed near your face during X-rays), you're going to get approximately double the dose that you would from digital imagery and rectangular...