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Doses, Benefits, Safety, and Risks in Oral and Maxillofacial Diagnostic Imaging

Lurie, Alan G.1

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000001030

Diagnostic imaging is essential in dentistry. Doses range from low to very low, benefits to patients can be immense, and safe techniques are well known but widely ignored. Doses range from very low with properly executed intraoral, cephalometric, and panoramic imaging to higher than multidetector computed tomography with cone-beam computed tomography. Benefits are substantial: imaged dental disease, often obscured from direct vision by size and anatomy, can pose a mortal threat to the patient. Additionally, imaging is often central in planning complex dental procedures. Safe imaging in dental environments is straightforward; the means for minimizing dose and maximizing diagnostic efficacy have been widely and inexpensively available for decades. Such techniques reduce patient dose by some 80% over traditional techniques but are infrequently used. Digital panoramic equipment reduces doses markedly. For cone-beam computed tomography imaging, selection criteria are critical in defining appropriate fields of view and presets; several publications address this. It is treacherous to discuss risk in oral and maxillofacial radiology. There are more than 330 million dental x-ray examinations annually, the majority being intraoral examinations, with steady increases in panoramic and cone-beam computed tomography. Radiation carcinogenesis from conventional imaging is unlikely, while large field-of-view, high-resolution preset cone-beam computed tomography can be comparable in carcinogenesis risk to craniofacial multidetector computed tomography. Uncertainties in risk estimation from low doses coupled with the huge numbers of dental images taken annually and the rapid growth of cone-beam computed tomography dictate that safe oral and maxillofacial imaging is in the interests of patients, staff, and the public. As low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) practices and linear no-threshold risk modeling continue to be prudent and appropriate.

1University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Diagnostic Sciences, Section of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, CT 06030-1605.

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

For correspondence contact the author at the above address, or email at

(Manuscript accepted 14 October 2018)

© 2019 by the Health Physics Society