Dental & Other X-Rays While Pregnant: Is It Safe?

woman looking at dental xrays with technicianPregnant women expect to have a calendar packed with doctors' visits, but scheduling an X-ray exam? That's obviously a whole different story. Even if you have a regular ol' dentist's appointment scheduled, it's not unusual for a mom-to-be to worry that routine dental X-rays could put her unborn child at risk from the radiation. But is that really the case?

Not necessarily. "The level of safety during an X-ray depends on the stage of pregnancy and the type of X-ray being done," explains Jack Davidson, MD, OB/GYN with Cigna.

Here's the deal:


"Generally, a single diagnostic X-ray during pregnancy is safe for both mom and baby," says Dr. Davidson. Echoing that sentiment is the American College of Radiology, which states that no single diagnostic X-ray has a radiation dose significant enough to cause adverse effects in a developing embryo or fetus. Pregnant women can also rest assured that X-rays of the arms, legs, head, teeth, or chest won't expose their reproductive organs to radiation. (If you're doing a dental X-ray, the leaded apron and collar your hygienist puts on you should block any scattered radiation.)

However, an expectant mom will likely want to steer clear of doing an X-ray of her torso, as that could expose her abdomen, stomach, pelvis, lower back, kidneys, and of course the uterus and fetus to radiation. And she'll likely want to avoid multiple X-rays of any sort. That's because research has shown high levels of radiation may cause changes in a baby's growing cells and an increased risk of birth defects or certain cancers, such as leukemia, later in life.

The good news is that if multiple X-rays are indicated, or if you'd rather avoid the exam altogether, you can ask for an alternative method of screening. "The doctor may be able to conduct another imaging study that doesn’t use radiation, such as an ultrasound or MRI," explains Dr. Davidson. "Or women can choose to have the X-ray after giving birth, if the test can be safely delayed."

The bottom-line: X-ray exams really only need to be done during pregnancy when the benefits outweigh the risks. Don't hesitate to talk to the doctor ordering the test and the technician doing the X-ray and explain that you're pregnant right off the bat, and feel free to vocalize your concerns. "If an X-ray is medically necessary, talk with your doctor about the steps you can take to reduce the amount of exposure to radiation," Dr. Davidson recommends. "That will help put your fears at ease and ensure you feel comfortable during the process."

How do you feel about getting X-rays while pregnant? Would you seek alternatives?

Image via © Karen Fox/Corbis

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