Lead Aprons No Longer Needed During X-Rays, Dental Group Says

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Nov. 3, 2023 – Wearing a heavy lead apron is no longer necessary during routine dental X-rays, a professional dental radiology group has concluded. 

Potential exposure of other body parts to what scientists call “external radiation scatter” is no longer a health threat because modern dental X-ray technology is safer. The recommendation by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology was published recently in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

Dental radiographs have been standard practice for about 70 years. They can help dental providers detect tooth decay, bone and gum disease, infections, and tumors. The authors of the new guidelines examined the risk of thyroid cancer after exposure to dental X-rays, as well as the potential impact on pregnant people and their unborn babies.

“There is ample evidence in scientific literature that shows that the apron and thyroid collar do not provide any additional benefit,” co-author Aruna Ramesh, DMD, a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, said in a news release.

The dose of radiation that pregnant people are exposed to would have to be 10,000 to 30,000 times higher to potentially harm an unborn baby, the authors advised. 

Wearing the apron will likely continue for now, due to offering dental patients a sense of protection.

“The lead apron plays a very important role in the psychology of our patients,” Hugo Campos, DMD, DDS, an associate professor and director of oral and maxillofacial radiology at Tufts, said in a statement.

Another reason that lead aprons likely aren’t going anywhere soon is that state laws typically require them, and the process for changing those requirements to reflect the new recommendation is expected to be slow. 

Ditching the lead apron could actually reduce the amount of radiation exposure a person has. That’s because sometimes, the apron’s collar can interfere with getting a clear shot, requiring a second take and, thus, doubling the radiation exposure.

“Preserving the quality of the images is the best way we have of protecting our patients,” Campos said.