My dentist must hate me. Every time I go and she wants to do X-rays, I refuse. Nope, I don’t want them, they can’t be good for you, I don’t want that radiation in my body. To which she responds by trying to tell me it’s perfectly safe and can help detect any issues. Unless there’s a problem that you can see, I’m not budging, I say. This goes back and forth for a few minutes (don’t they make a note of this in their charts or something?), and then she finally concedes. I know they all think I’m a freak, but next time, I want to bring a new research study that suggests people who had certain kinds of dental X-rays in the past may be at an increased risk for brain tumors. I knew it!
Published in the recent journal Cancer, a research team at the Yale School of Medicine analyzed 1,433 people diagnosed with intracranial meningioma–a tumor that forms in the tissues lining the brain. For comparison, the researchers also followed 1,350 people who were similar in age, sex and residence as the study group, but who had not been diagnosed with a tumor.
Participants were then asked how many times they had one of three common X-Rays: a focused image of one area, a number of images of the full mouth and a single panoramic view of the entire mouth. These are also known as bitewing, full-mouth and panorex films, respectively.
What researchers found was interesting, yet not surprising to me: Those diagnosed with the brain tumors were more than twice as likely to have had bitewing images taken–regardless of how old they were when those X-rays were taken. As you’d expect though, those who had them annually or more frequently were at a 40% to 90% higher risk to for a brain tumor.
Currently, 15 out of every 10,000 people get this type of tumor. Those in the study who had the bitewing X-rays jumped to 22 in 10,000 people. That may not seem like a huge leap, but any increase in the risk of a brain tumor is worth noting. It’s also worth noting that the tumors were non-cancerous.
Another type of X-ray, panoramic, which is typically started when kids are young was also shown to increase the risk of meningiomas by up to five times–especially if given annually and started before the age of 10. Yikes. My kids have had those before I turned into a dental nazi.
As expected, not everyone concurs with me that X-rays are dangerous. Dr. Alan Lurie, president of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology disregarded the study by stating:
They found a small risk (from) a pair of bitewings, but not a full mouth series, which is multiple bitewings. That inconsistency is impossible to understand to me.
He went on to state that radiation levels today are lower than they were perhaps when we were kids, however, he does warn that patients shouldn’t assume it’s fine for the dentist to take X-rays.
They should ask why are (dentists) taking this image and what is the benefit to me.