New guidance on dental scanners

Radiation protection guidance for dentists using certain new types of scanners is published today by the Health Protection Agency.

In the past few years, specialist dental surgeries all over the UK have been introducing cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) technology to aid treatment.

They are used for specialist examinations and can deliver higher doses of radiation than other X-ray equipment that dentists use.

Because of the rapid uptake of this new technology, and a lack of specific safety guidance on its use, the Health Protection Agency’s dental radiation specialists assembled a group of experts to formulate guidance for dentists.

Dr John Cooper, director of the Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards, said: ‘Cone beam computed tomography is a new and useful tool for dentists. However, like any X-ray equipment this technology utilises radiation and therefore there are risks.

‘I am sure that the detailed and thorough work undertaken, and published today, will play an important role in ensuring that doses to patients are effectively controlled and that all others involved in the use of this technology, dentists and their staff, are well protected.’

The new guidance sets out:
• What dentists should do before acquiring a CBCT scanner, including choosing suitable equipment, ensuring staff are adequately protected and making sure rooms where the equipment will go are specifically designed for the technology.
• How existing regulations apply to the use of CBCT.
• Standards that dental CBCT scanners should be tested against to make sure they work correctly and are capable of keeping patient doses as low as practicable.
• The training that dentists, and other users, will need to enable them to use the new technology properly.

The expert group included HPA dental and medical radiation protection staff, dentists, regulators, medical physicists and academics.

Dr Cooper added: ‘This guidance will play an important role in protecting all involved in the use of CBCT and I want to thank the group which developed it for its hard work. The fact that those on the group come from such diverse backgrounds illustrates how this advice has been developed by all those with a professional interest in this field.

‘I hope that dental professionals will find this guidance useful.’

• Coincidentally – as Google flags up with one of its illustrations – today is the 115th anniversary for the discovery of X-rays. Wilhelm Röntgen was the first man to study the effects of X-rays after coming across them on 8 November 1895 while he was experimenting. He was awarded the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics 16 years later.

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