Pregnancy is the most crucial time in the life of a woman as they are responsible for their own, as well as the child’s health. There is plenty to think about, especially as a first-time mom. Along with medical attention, dental care is also essential for pregnant patients. With the rapid hormonal changes in the body, dental infections and diseases can have an exaggerated response during pregnancy.
Severe cases of dental decay may require accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment to prevent the spread of infection to the developing fetus. Dental x-rays are an essential part of clinical diagnosis. Often the safety of x-ray exposure comes as a primary concern during pregnancy.
The Food and Drugs Administration has revealed that x-rays, when properly taken, do not cause harm to the fetus. Moreover, they have set out universal protective measures such as lead aprons and thyroid collars as an essential and mandatory procedure before taking x-rays for all patients. Today’s article will highlight the safety concerns of dental x-rays. Furthermore, we will discuss the protective measures and its benefits to prevent radiation exposure.
Dental x-rays are images of the teeth that are taken by exposing the concerned area of the mouth to x-ray radiations. A film is used to capture the picture, which is then developed to assist the dentist in evaluating the health of the oral tissues. (1) Ideally, the frequency of dental x-ray depends upon the age, current oral health, and risk of disease. Some of the indications of dental x-ray may be as follows –
- To diagnose a periapical lesion such as tooth abscess or cyst
- To evaluate the extent of tooth decay
- Assess the progression of periodontal disease and bone loss
- Identify and diagnose any abnormality in the tooth, root, or the surrounding alveolar bone
X-rays are typically described as short bursts of radiation that pass through the body tissue. Usually, the radiation dose depends on the type of x-ray and the person’s size. Usually, the dose of radiation from a dental x-ray, including CBCT, is estimated to be between 0.009 millisieverts and 7.97 millisieverts. Such exposures are minimal and have no significant effects on the uterus and the developing fetus. (2)
Moreover, with the development of digital x-rays, radiation exposure has significantly reduced and amounts to less than the radiation exposure from a natural background in one day.
Are there risks associated with radiation exposure?
As mentioned above, dental x-rays do not pose a significant risk to pregnant women. It is believed that x-ray exposure, especially during the first trimester, may slightly increase the risk of cancer development in the baby. However, the risk of developing cancer from a dental x-ray is several thousand times less as compared to the background risk of childhood cancer. (3)
In rare cases, the angle of the x-ray beam needed to take a dental x-ray properly may expose the radiation to the pelvic area. However, the use of lead apron in every dental office reduces the risk of radiation exposure.
Is it safe to get x-rays during pregnancy?
Dental x-ray exposure is always small and concentrated at the mouth. Therefore, it does not pose a threat to the developing fetus. Several clinical studies have concluded that dental x-ray radiation is safe for pregnant women. For instance, two dental x-ray films expose the patient to 0.02 mSv of radiation. This amounts to the radiation exposure from a seven-hour plane ride. (4)
Ideally, for x-ray radiation to cause significant harm to the developing fetus, the pregnant mother will have to be exposed to radiation, which is at least 2500 times the amount as mentioned above.
It is believed that pregnant patients must avoid all types of x-ray. But on the contrary, it is essential to take an x-ray for severe dental conditions like gum and periodontal disease. Untreated gum disease has often been linked to increased risk of pre-term birth. Therefore, the benefits of diagnostic information from x-ray outweigh the potential risk of infection to the baby. (5)
The Food and Drug Administration has declared dental x-ray exposure as safe for both the mother and the child. Digital x-rays further reduce radiation exposure and are considered as the most reliable diagnostic tool in dentistry.
What precautions should be taken before taking an x-ray for a pregnant patient?
It is established that radiation exposure from a dental x-ray is not harmful to pregnant. However, you must always inform the health care provider if you are or might be pregnant. The dentist can then decide the necessity of taking a dental x-ray.
In some cases, the dental professional may postpone the x-ray or even modify it to reduce radiation exposure. Moreover, universal radiation protection is followed while taking dental x-rays to protect the pregnant patient. Some of these protective rules include –
- Use of a lead apron which acts as a shield and protects the vital organs of the body from radiation exposure (6)
- Thyroid collars are used to cover the neck and protect the radio-sensitive thyroid gland
- ALARA (As low as reasonably achievable) principle makes every effort to reduce the risk of radiation exposure
An overview of x-ray safety during pregnancy
Dental x-rays are the best diagnostic tools that help to provide information about dental conditions that may not be seen through the naked eye. As compared to full-body scans, dental x-rays focus on the part of the mouth and produce minimal radiation exposure. Usually, the radiation exposure from dental x-ray does not cause a significant change.
Pregnancy is considered as a crucial stage of life which requires extreme care and precautions. Typically, pregnant patients are restricted from getting dental x-ray unless it is necessary. However, several studies have proven that the radiation exposure from dental x-ray cannot cause harm to the developing fetus.
Additionally, dental professionals use universal protective measures to ensure radiation protection, especially for pregnant women. This may include the use of lead apron and thyroid collar. If you are skeptical about getting a dental x-ray, consult your dentist to understand the risk and benefits of avoiding dental x-ray during pregnancy.