Dental x-rays are an important diagnostic tool. They reveal oral health issues that could otherwise go unnoticed: areas of decay, bone loss, abscesses, tumours, and conditions of the root canal. Unfortunately, some people are wary of dental x-rays, dental practitioners aren’t always sure how to ease their concerns.
These tips can help you educate patients on the significant benefits and minimal risks associated with dental x-rays so they can make a well-informed decision about their care.
If you’ve worked as a dentist or dental hygienist in the last few years, you’ve probably heard it before:
Are dental x-rays safe? Can they cause thyroid cancer?
According to an article in Today’s RDH, much of the fear surrounding dental x-rays originates from a talk show several years ago. The show presented a link between the radiation from dental x-rays and thyroid cancer. Video clips shared widely through email and social media sites, sparking an increase in patients refusing x-rays out of concern for their health.
In truth, the link between dental x-rays and thyroid cancer is tenuous, and the show failed to explain how dental x-rays compares to other radiation sources (a dental x-ray is about 0.005 mSv of radiation, equalling less than one day of background radiation exposure.)
Regardless, this trend is a challenge to dental practitioners. The public is not well-informed about radiation, and not all practitioners are prepared to address their concerns. The absence of x-ray images can make it difficult to effectively diagnose and treat patients.
However, with the right approach and a bit of patience, many dentists and dental hygienists can help patients understand that dental x-rays are safe.
For many patients, visiting the dentist is unpleasant to begin with. The added uncertainty surrounding radiation can make the experience more frightening.
Your patience and empathy can make a world of difference in this circumstance. As always, it’s crucial to communicate openly with the patient and take time to explain things in a way they understand.
Understand that dental x-rays are not common everywhere in the world. Newcomers, along with older adults who have little experience with the dentist, may not be familiar with dental x-rays.
Acknowledge that you may have to take a different approach with patients of differing cultural backgrounds. It may help to have an interpreter explain the process to them.
Take time to assure your patients that you and your staff take measures to ensure that dental x-rays are as safe as possible. Explain the purpose of a lead apron, lead thyroid collar, and the ALARA principle for radiation exposure.
A 2017 study examined different approaches to informing patients about radiation exposure from x-rays and other imaging tests. According to this research, patients prefer to receive the information in both oral and written formals, along with a table showing how radiation exposure from the test compares to background radiation.
The average American receives about 620 mrem of radiation each year, half of which comes from natural background radiation. The radiation ‘dosage’ associated with dental x-rays is just 0.005 mSv, less than a single day’s worth of background exposure.
Making this comparison can help patients understand that dental x-rays are not something to fear. However, the information should be delivered with empathy and not to belittle the patient’s concerns.