Radiation Safety for Pregnant Dental Staff and Patients

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Pregnancy | Business Operations

Certain professions, including dentistry, require the use of specific materials, technologies and/or chemicals that may be of concern to the pregnant employee. Your practice’s staff policy manual or handbook should include information about potential hazards in the dental practice.

Special considerations should be given to pregnant dental personnel whose job duties may involve direct exposure to radiation. Make sure each written job description details whether the position requires the employee to work with or around any potentially dangerous substances. All employees should be aware of any potential dangers of toxins in the workplace and advised that they, in consultation with their physician, should determine whether the potential risks of exposure requires some type of accommodation or whether they should continue to work.

Be aware that pregnant employees may be concerned about the potential impact of exposure to radiation on the baby. While they’re likely already aware of the recommended precautions for minimizing potential exposure, it’s a good idea to be prepared in case additional questions are raised or accommodations are recommended by a physician.

American Dental Association (ADA) policies and recommendations are designed to help dentists ensure that patients’ radiation exposure is as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) and in compliance with as low as diagnostically acceptable (ALADA). Principles of good radiation hygiene, a few of which are detailed below, also offer guidance for protecting pregnant individuals whose job duties may involve direct exposure to radiation.

Under the ALARA principle, dentists are encouraged to take precautions to help ensure that:

  • All X-ray exposures are justified in relation to their benefits.
  • Necessary exposures are kept as low as reasonably achievable (i.e., ALARA).
  • The doses received by patients and personnel are kept well below the allowable limits.

The ADA encourages dentists to:

  • Be aware of their state’s laws and regulations which set specific requirements for the use of ionizing radiation (which includes X-rays).
  • Minimize radiation exposure by using the appropriate protective shield.
  • Use the fastest image receptor compatible with the diagnostic task (F-speed film or digital).

If it’s possible that the pregnant employee may need to take patient radiographs, it’s recommended that you:

  • Provide a personal dosimetry badge to track her exposure to radiation.
  • Provide barrier protection to be used whenever possible when she operates radiographic equipment.
    • If shielding is not possible, the pregnant employee should stand at least two meters from the tube head and out of the path of the primary beam.

Determine whether your state’s regulatory radiation protection program has additional requirements.

Finally, make sure your employee handbook includes a comprehensive policy that addresses radiation safety. If it doesn’t, now would be a good time to create one. Consider consulting a qualified human resources professional and an attorney who specializes in workforce issues to ensure that you’re in compliance with all of the federal, state, and local regulations that may apply.