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You’ve likely heard about x-rays at one point or another. Though, perhaps not in the context of dentistry. X-rays and radiation are topics that tend to get passed around like second hand smoke at airports and malls. You can easily catch them being mentioned while accidentally overhearing another conversation, and for most Canadians that’s probably the extent of their knowledge. We’re here this week to shed some light on the mystery.
In the simplest terms, radiation is the transfer of energy through waves. Imagine ripples in a pond when a stone is dropped in the water. Now, instead of water, think energy. Fire or your stove is a good example. An inch above your burner is incredibly hot, but from a foot or two away, the heat is weaker. The waves of heat — or the thermal radiation, is getting larger, more spread out, and less powerful.
Radiation usually refers to electromagnetic radiation, or EMR. It’s a broad term that can encompass many different types of radiation. The sun is a major source of the earth’s background radiation, but it can also come from trace amounts of radioactive substances present in the earth’s mantle. Not all radiation is “bad.” Visible light, like heat, is considered radiation. Light passes across our eyes constantly, and we don’t give it a second thought. However, when medical examinations and x-rays get involved, people quickly tend to get nervous about the invisible waves that are passing through their bodies.
There are many different kinds of electromagnetic waves, and many are passing through you right now. Radio and wifi signals, for example, are both types of radiation that feature long wavelengths and a low frequency. X-rays have a wavelength of around 1 to 10 nanometers (there are 1 000 000 000 nanometers in one meter!) and also have a much higher frequency. Waves with lower frequency and longer wavelengths, like radio waves, are harmless. However, x-rays, with their smaller wavelengths, can interact with our body’s cells and organs, which is what allows dentists to generate an image of your mouth.
X-rays have the potential to interfere with cell division and DNA replication. However, this is no reason to panic. Your body faces these sorts of problems every single day, and they can come from many causes. The tiny amount of radiation that you are exposed to during a single dental x-ray isn’t enough to cause any permanent damage, but the potential for harm does exist. However, instead of asking whether or not radiation is potentially harmful, it makes more sense to look at the cost versus benefit ratio. Are the health benefits of having a detailed look at your mouth and jaw worth the slight increase in your radiation dosage that day? Most of the time the answer is yes, which is why we use annual dental x-rays the way we do.
Centennial Smiles is more than happy to talk about x-rays and how they are used to help maintain your oral health. Give us a call at (587) 317‑7959 today!