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Lead aprons no longer necessary for dental X-rays

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The American Dental Association points out that X-ray and other diagnostic technologies have gotten more precise in recent decades, cutting down on the amount of radiation exposure. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

The heavy lead apron dentists drape over you during dental X-rays may soon be a thing of the past.

On Thursday, the American Dental Association (ADA) announced that its member dentists can dispense with the aprons, technically called "thyroid collars" because they were used to shield that organ from radiation.

"After reviewing nearly 100 articles, guidance documents and regulations related to radiography, the expert panel determined thyroid and abdominal shielding during dental imaging is no longer recommended, and the use of these forms of protective shielding should be discontinued as routine practice," the ADA said.

The organization points out that X-ray and other diagnostic technologies have gotten more precise in recent decades, cutting down on the amount of radiation exposure.

Therefore, dentists should dispense with lead aprons and instead think about which and how many scans are really needed.

In some cases, the use of lead aprons could block imaging and hinder a diagnosis, the organization added.

"When this happens, more radiographs need to be taken and unnecessary X-rays are what we want to avoid," said Dr. Purnima Kumar, chair of the ADA's Council on Scientific Affairs.

"The central point of these recommendations is that clinicians should order radiographs in moderation, to minimize both patients' and dental professionals' exposure to ionizing radiation," Kumar added in an ADA news release.

The new recommendation to abandon aprons applies to all patients, including women who are pregnant, the ADA noted.

To better safeguard patients, the group advises that:

  • Dentists consult patients X-rays obtained in prior exams, and if new ones are needed, only order those needed to "optimize diagnostic information"

  • Use digital rather than conventional radiographic film

  • Restrict the X-ray "beam size" to only that area of the anatomy that needs to be assessed

  • Position patients properly for an X-ray

  • Use a higher-radiation technology, called cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT), only in instances where other technologies with lower radiation levels won't work

  • Sticking with "all applicable federal, state and local regulations on radiation safety"

"We encourage dentists and their teams to review these best-practice recommendations, comply with radiation protection regulations and talk with their patients about any questions or concerns before ordering dental imaging," said Kumar, a professor of dentistry and chair of the department of periodontology and oral medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

The guidelines were published Thursday in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

More information

Find out more about dental X-rays at the Cleveland Clinic.

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