By: Karen Cicero
I’ve had my fair share of dental X-rays over the years, and you probably have too. That’s why I was alarmed a few weeks ago, when I ran across a study that linked annual bitewing X-rays to a 40-90 percent increased risk of meningioma, a brain tumor that’s typically benign. The study was conducted by researchers at Yale School of Medicine and published by the American Cancer Association. Both organizations are highly creditable, which added to my anxiety!
So I asked Dr. Howard Gamble, dentist and president of the Academy of General Dentistry, if he thought there was cause for alarm. Much to my relief, he reassured me that the level of radiation used when participants in the study, ages 20-79, received dental X-rays was considerably higher than it is now. “Modern radiographic techniques and equipment provide the narrowest beam and shortest exposure, thereby limiting the area and time of exposure and reducing any possible risks while providing the highest level of diagnostic benefits,” he said. The study didn’t find any link between full-mouth X-rays (which are basically multiple bitewings) and the tumors, which makes radiation exposure harder to blame.
The upshot: This study doesn’t prove that dental X-rays are dangerous. Still, Gamble said, like any other test, you only want to get X-rays when you need them. How often that will be depends mainly on your age and the condition of your teeth, so it’s smart to keep them in good shape. You can read the American Dental Association’s recommendations on when to get X-rays here. If you switch to a new dentist or see a specialist such as an orthodontist, have a copy of your X-rays sent over so they don’t need to be repeated. Excuse me now; I’m off to brush!
is Completely You’s Need to Know blogger. A health journalist and magazine editor with more than 15 years of experience, she has contributed to such publications as Prevention, SELF and Health, and she has edited the dental column for Heart & Soul magazine.
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