There has been a lot of hype in the media recently with regards to dental x-rays and meningioma (i.e. a tumor in the lining tissue of the brain). While it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of information available to us through the Washington Post, ABC news, Fox news, etc., there are important pieces of information to keep in mind before jumping to the conclusion that dental x-rays do more damage than benefit.
After a study was published online in April 2012 by the Cancer journal, most media outlets ran exposés of the links between dental xrays and the mostly benign (non-cancerous) meningioma tumor. They all sited the Cancer study when saying that “patients with meningiomas were more than twice as likely to report having had frequent focused dental x-rays known as bitewings. Panoramic x-rays of the whole mouth done at a young age raised the risk up to five times” (Siegel, 2012).
The reality of the matter is that, while there may have been a link found between dental x-rays and this particular brain tumor, it is just one potential link; dental x-rays have not been found to cause brain tumors. In fact, Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society stated, “we need more data before we can begin to state there is a relationship between dental x-rays and these tumors. Until that research is done, the best advice we can give people is to get dental x-rays when they are necessary…” (Simon, 2012).
There are a number of other things to consider before making a rash decision to refuse dental x-rays at your next visit, including the number of shortcomings with the actual conduction of the Cancer study. For starters, the study relied on participants’ memories of their history of dental x-rays, rather than dental records, and such studies are subject to a phenomenon known to scientists as “recall bias”, i.e. when people with a disease look for a cause. This may have caused the meningioma patients of the Cancer study to over-report the number of dental x-rays they received, which could have skewed the findings. Also, the study acknowledges that some of the subjects received dental x-rays decades ago when radiation exposure was greater. Radiation rates were higher in the past due to the use of old x-ray technology and slower speed film (Huget, 2012).
Now I want you to consider the amount of radiation exposure dental x-rays contribute to your overall daily limit. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) allows for 50 mVp’s of radiation exposure each year. Our digital images are .2 mVp’s and our panorex machine is equivalent to Cancerstudy said, “don’t panic – don’t stop seeing the dentist- but do look at the (ADA) guidelines and discuss them with your dentist” (Simon, 2012). Ultimately, we want to do what we can to protect your total health, both in and out of the office.
Huget, J. L. (2012, April 10). Study links dental X-rays to brain tumor risk. Retrieved May 14, 2012 from Thewashingtonpost.com. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-checkup/post/study-links-dental-x-rays-to-brain-tumor-risk/2012/04/09/gIQALz8k6S_blog.html
Siegel, D.M. (2012, April 16). Dental x-rays and brain tumors: Don’t drop the dentist yet. Retrieved May 14, 2012 from FoxNews.com. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/04/16/dental-x-rays-and-brain-tumors-dont-drop-dentist-just-yet/
Simon, S. (2012, April 10). Study Examines Possible Link Between Dental X-Rays and Meningioma Risk. Retrived May 14, 2012 from the American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/news/News/study-examines-possible-link-between-dental-x-rays-and-meningioma-risk