Annual dental X-rays may expose patients to risk

Dental X-rays

Credit: WFAA

A new study says dental X-rays can increase a patient's risk of brain tumors.



Posted on April 11, 2012 at 10:17 AM

DALLAS — Routine dental X-rays are among the most common source of radiation for most people.

Frequent dental X-rays — particularly in childhood — may be linked to an increased risk of the most common brain tumor in adulthood, according to a new study by the Yale University School of Medicine and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The research shows that having annual bitewing X-rays increases the risk of non-malignant, yet potentially dangerous, brain tumors called meningiomas.

The study found that a panoramic X-ray that sweeps around a patient's head nearly quintupled the risk if performed before a child's 10th birthday.

"We've actually told them a couple times not to do X-rays," said Kristy Jackson, who declines X-rays for her kids unless absolutely necessary.

"I don't know a lot about X-rays, so maybe some of the unknown can create some concern for me," she said.

This study included about 1,400 meningioma patients between the ages of 20 and 79 who were diagnosed between 2006 and 2011. The study also relied on self-reported dental histories from the patients.

Both are potential study flaws, according to some experts. Other experts point out, however, that dental X-rays are performed far more regularly today than they were years ago.

Dr. Ben Banks of Dallas points out the study was based primarily on X-rays with radiation levels considered acceptable decades ago.

"In this particular study, the average age of the patient was 57, which means it happened over 40 years ago," Dr. Banks said. "We use a lot faster film now, with less radiation. So I think for younger people now, it's not quite as big a risk."

Dr. Banks points out that X-rays are crucial to seeing below the teeth's surface for signs of cavities, infections, or bone problems. Each patient may have different needs when it comes to the frequency of X-rays.

Many patients like Tony Lopez say the study is not enough to change their dental habits.

"I think the good of the X-ray would outweigh the bad right now," he said.

The American Dental Association recommends X-rays every one to two years for healthy children;  every two to three years for adults.

Experts say no matter how low the dose of radiation, it's always more than zero. Patients have the right and should ask what an X-ray is going to tell the doctors, and question how it will help decide treatment.