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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article June 2011: Dental radiology

On a daily basis we make decisions that involve an element of risk.  I walk down the stairs from my bedroom each morning to prepare my bowl of oatmeal in spite of the fact that I could slip and fall on the steps.  And then I rely on a car to get me from my garage to my dental office, another potentially hazardous endeavor. 

     Within the arena of health and medicine it has become almost comical to watch the television advertisements for prescription drugs.  The wonderful benefits of the medication are touted only to be balanced at the tail end by a rather extensive list of potential side-effects that leave us wondering why anyone would ever risk swallowing the tablet. 

     In recent times television’s Dr. Oz has appropriately raised the use of X-radiation in dental and medical settings as a potential cause for concern.  It was German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen who in 1901 won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his detection and investigation of a previously unknown wavelength of electromagnetic radiation.  Within mathematic equations, unknowns are often designated ‘X’ and leaning on this tradition Roentgen referred to his discovery as “X-rays”.

     Eight short months after Roentgen shared his discovery a young New Orleans dentist, C. Edmund Kells was demonstrating the applicability of the new technology to a group of dental professionals in North Carolina.  Kells was a genuine genius who held more than 30 patents on things from surgical suction pumps to elevator brakes.  With his dental assistant as his subject he was the first to utilize X-radiation to image the internal anatomy of teeth.  It was 1913 when he installed the world’s first commercially manufactured X-ray unit for use in a dental setting. 

     Pioneers like Roentgen and Kells also learned the hard way of the hazards that Dr. Oz reminds about still today.  For more than twenty years Kells unwittingly used his right hand to hold the films upon which he captured his patient’s dental X-ray images.  The result was an extended fight against cancer that ultimately cost him his hand, then arm and eventually right shoulder before he ended his own life at age 72.

     X-radiation remains today an invaluable diagnostic and therapeutic tool within a multitude of medical settings.  Today of course a multitude of safeguards have been built into the responsible use of this continuously evolving technology.  If you stop by my office and pull my personal dental file off the shelf you’ll find that in addition to navigating the steps from my bedroom and piloting my MINI Cooper on the roads of America, I also have chosen to risk occasional X-radiation of my own mouth for the benefit of the great information contained within those images.  Talk with your own dental professionals and make sure that they too are following the American Dental Association’s “ALARA” (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) guidelines to ensure that your radiation exposure is kept at an absolute minimum.   



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