Often times it is necessary for a dentist or orthodontic specialist to perform x-rays on their patients, in order to get a total picture of their oral health for proper diagnosis and treatment. These x-rays help a dentist to spot hidden decay or rot that can potentially be very painful and expensive, leading to root canals or lose of teeth. For patients with tooth aches or bleeding gums, these tests can be essential, and even more so if oral lesions or masses are suspected. X-rays are also useful for getting an accurate assessment of teeth alignment when a patient is preparing for corrective braces.
Every time a person has an x-ray taken of a body part, they are exposed to a small amount of radiation. Radiation, though considered safe in small doses, poses a cancer risk in humans with prolonged exposure. For this reason, many patients and doctors alike have come to take extra precautions in safeguarding themselves from radiation exposure. One of the most prominent ways in which steps are being taken to decrease exposure is with the popularity of the thyroid shield. A thyroid shield resembles a neck brace or the collar of a turtleneck. The shield will feel heavy over the patient’s neck, as it is lined with lead which serves as a radiation blocker.
One reason why concern for shielding against radiation is so prominent in medical circles today is the increasing rate of thyroid cancer in women. Thyroids are particularly sensitive to radiation and so there is legitimate concern about reducing exposure to the light during the process.
For patients with special health considerations which limit their recommended exposure during dental radiographic examinations, it is prudent to ask the technologist at the dental office for a thyroid shield.
A patient who has suffered from a disease such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism should alert their dentist to this medical history before scheduling an x-ray. In addition, those who have suffered from thyroid cancer should also be on alert to minimize exposure to radiation. However, if an x-ray is recommended to treat or diagnose an oral issue, a shield can present the opportunity for the x-ray to occur with reduced exposure.
It is important to be one’s own advocate when dealing with medical professionals. The use of thyroid shields is not yet a mainstream practice in most dental offices. But this does not mean they are not useful or respected among the professional community, only that they have not become a routine exercise. It is neither rude nor inappropriate to insist that a doctor or dentist use a thyroid shield when performing x-rays on a patient. In fact, doctors, nurses, and technologists all wear protective guards for situations when they are dealing with radioactive exposure during the course of their job.