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Alternatives to dental x-rays

Although dental X-rays are a routine staple of dental care, consumers question the long-term safety of repeated exposure to this kind of radiation. In response to patient worries and concerns raised by professional groups such as the World Dental Organization about the regular use of dental X-rays in children and links to cancers of the thyroid, head, and neck "See Reference 1," new technology and innovative applications of existing imaging devices offer some alternatives.

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Digital X-Ray Systems

Digital x-ray technology involves using a sensor inside the mouth, with images transmitted digitally to a computer screen for viewing. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association "See Resource 2," these systems require no x-ray film or multiple exposures, and radiation is greatly reduced. Although not radiation free, digital x-ray offers a low-risk alternative to conventional dental X-rays.

Cone-Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)

A form of computed tomography (CT), cone-beam CT (CBCT) allows dentists to diagnose tooth and jaw problems in three dimensions, greatly improving accuracy and reducing the need for the multiple exposures often required by traditional x-ray technology "See Resource 3." Although CBCT is largely used to prepare for dental surgery, dental offices throughout the United States have begun to incorporate it into their practices. CBCT is not without radiation, but the dose received is much lower than that in hospitals.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Although magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is most frequently used in hospitals for full-body diagnoses, its application in dental technology continues to increase as patients request alternatives to X-rays. Completely noninvasive, MRI uses a magnetic field and high frequency pulses to obtain images of bone and soft tissue "See Reference 4."


Less frequently used in dental settings but still an option for concerned patients is ultrasonography. Ultrasonography, which uses high-frequency sound waves to obtain images of tissue and bone throughout the body, is also noninvasive and uses no radiation "See Reference 4."

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About the Author

Carla Jean McKinney has been writing professionally since 1989. She is the author of three nonfiction books and numerous published short works, as well as articles on natural sciences and the environment. Also a photographer, McKinney earned her Master of Arts at the University of Arizona and is a graduate of the Sessions School of Design.

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