Answer to Question #12900 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Dental

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I had two x rays of my lower left back teeth. I felt an immediate burning sensation of my jaw cheekbone and tongue. Why?


The x rays were not the source of the burning sensation you felt. An immediate burning sensation such as the one you describe is very likely due to the presence of residual disinfectant chemicals on the radiographic equipment that was used during the procedure. Another possible cause was a reaction to the type of gloves used by the dental personnel exposing the radiographs. 

Let's look at these two possibilities further. First of all, there are different categories of medical/dental equipment in terms of how the equipment is sterilized or disinfected. Surgical instruments for instance are heat autoclaved, thereby rendering these instruments sterile for use during surgical procedures. For procedures like dental x rays, the standard is that the equipment should be disinfected with a surface chemical capable of a high-level of disinfection, and then a plastic barrier should be used for the x-ray equipment. During this process, it is very likely that the disinfectant was introduced onto the outside surface of this plastic barrier. These chemicals are meant to be used on hard plastics, metals, or countertops. They are not meant for intraoral use and do have a very stringent, unpleasant, bitter taste if one accidently tastes them.

The other possibility is that you may have had a reaction to the type of gloves the person was wearing. Latex gloves have been commonly used in healthcare, including dentistry, for many, many years; however, approximately 5 to 10% of the population has a latex allergy, or may become allergic after repeated exposures. Therefore, many practitioners are routinely switching to nitrile gloves, since they do not cause the same types of allergic reactions. It is possible that the radiographer was wearing latex gloves and you have an allergy to latex.

You may also have a concern about the x rays themselves. X rays do not have an electrical charge, nor do they have mass. They are similar to visible light, which is another type of electromagnetic energy. X rays used in dentistry are low energy compared to other medical uses and today's exposures are usually less than 0.1 of a second. This means that the total amount of x rays used in intraoral exposures are among the lowest radiographic dose examinations used in medicine.

I hope this answers your question.

Jeffery Price, DDS, MS

Answer posted on 7 May 2019. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.