radiation exposure and fertitilty
January 27, 2007 8:45 AM   Subscribe

IANAD do I do not know is this is a riduculous concern or not that I have. My son is 28 and I have reason to believe that he and his partner are trying to conceive. When he was 3 or 4 he had some fllings done on his teeth and the (old country) doctor who did them " forgot" to cover his lap when he took the xrays and I have always wondered if that sort of exposure to radiation ( 25 yrs ago roughly) could have damaged the motility of his sperm, or somehow compromised the general overall health or production of sperm. I have not mentioned this to him and I do not know if I should or just wait and see. Any thoughts or helpful informed repsonses? Thanks
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Google reveals this, which suggests that you don't have anything to worry about on this score.
posted by craichead at 9:05 AM on January 27, 2007

IANAD either, but I have multiple dentists in my family, and you shouldn't have a reason to be concerned. The doses of radiation used would only have a significant impact if exposed directly to the genitals. If your son had dozens of unprotected x-rays like this, then I would worry, but this was 25 years ago, so the fraction of sperm left from that period would be miniscule, if indeed there are any remaining. The risk is larger for pregnant women, but x-rays wouldn't be recommended in that situation anyway.

some useful links:

here (powerpoint presentation file)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:25 AM on January 27, 2007

Even if this long-ago exposure did compromise your son's fertility, what could you possibly do about it now?

I wonder why this anxiety is troubling you now. You might try looking at it the way one does a bad dream: not literally, but as a symbolic encoding of a significant message from your unconscious mind.

For example, do you feel guilty about the incident with the "old country" dentist, and so could this story be a stand-in for some other guilt you feel about your son? Are you feeling left out because your son and his partner aren't confiding in you, and so does this story let you be involved in their parenthood, even if in a negative way?

Those are just a couple of questions that your story raises for me. A counselor could help you look at this story and find ones that are fruitful for you.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:31 AM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

The dose of a dental x-ray appears to be very small compared to other x-ray diagnostics and relatively low compared to background radiation exposure and about the same order of exposure as an airline flight.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2007

It shouldn't be cause for concern.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2007

You feel guilty because you are afraid you may be somehow responsible for their lack of a child? Naww, don't be. If they stay without conveiving for a while, a doctor will tell them what's wrong.
posted by markesh at 10:23 AM on January 27, 2007

IANADBAE(in-training)* and I'm not even going to look up something here (Pubmed is the net's largest public database of life sciences literature) to say that such a small and brief dose of radiation is highly unlikely to have any impact on your son's fecundity.

* I am not a doctor but an epidemiologist-in-training
posted by docgonzo at 10:33 AM on January 27, 2007

No way has this done harm to your kid.
posted by xammerboy at 11:27 AM on January 27, 2007

I had an X-ray as a kid, for a broken arm, and the tech noticed me trying to cover up my man-parts with my other hand, so he put a large bag of lead pellets there.

Years later, in medical school, I went to look this up, because I wanted to know if the tech had recognized a real danger, or if he was just comforting a scared kid who was in a lot of pain.

It turns out that every year, cosmic rays from the sky deliver a much higher dose of radiation to you - to all of us - than would come from the overspill from a single diagnostic x-ray. So although a reasonable person might initially be concerned about this, it turns out that it is not actually something that is dangerous.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:32 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Up until about 30 years ago I never even saw one of those protective aprons, then everyone started using them. I don't think they were in general use until around then (at least not in Denver)
posted by BoscosMom at 12:36 PM on January 27, 2007

If your son's testes were damaged the way you fear, they also would have failed to produce testosterone when he reached the age of puberty -- and his voice wouldn't have changed, and his beard would not have grown.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:00 PM on January 27, 2007

For thoroughness' sake, it should be mentioned that while your son is fine, shielding is probably a good idea for anyone who receives a lot of X-rays.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:36 PM on January 27, 2007

I agree that if, hypothetically, the dosage of radiation was enough to cause cellular damage I doubt it would be such that it would only cause sterilization.

Of course, I would have never guessed a kid falling on his glasses would evolve to give us corrective vision surgery.

The dose would have to be amplified at such a specific frequency, at such a specific site to just create sterilization that he would be a walking medical miracle. Perfectly safe, knife-less, sterilization in a pre-pubescent boy. He'd make medical journals and probably have a few things named after him.
posted by geoff. at 3:09 PM on January 27, 2007

I work with ionizing radiation for my job (nuclear propulsion plant - I'm the radiological controls guy.) Your son would have to have received the dental x-ray pretty much every day for a long long time to make him sterile. If he is, it isn't from that.
He'll probably have a girl, though. Just kidding (nuke worker joke.)
posted by ctmf at 7:52 PM on January 27, 2007

It should be no problem. I spent many years in a not-so-affluent Asian country, and the largest hospital in the state didn't have that great of a budget. Everyone who had x-rays taken just walked into the x-ray room and pressed up against that x-ray wall thing (for chest x-rays). X-rays for dental purposes were taken in a smaller room with Stone Age x-ray equipment, wearing just normal clothes. A problem about fertility never seemed to pop up among those who had x-rays taken... and there would be quite a few of them!
posted by Xere at 5:53 PM on January 28, 2007

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