By Dr. Doyle Williams
The new study released today showing a correlation between certain kinds of dental x-rays and brain tumors is causing unnecessary alarm throughout the media this morning. The study looked at people diagnosed with intracranial meningioma, one of the most common brain tumors, compared them with a similar number of healthy people and noticed that those with the tumors were more than twice as likely to report ever having had bitewing images taken.
X-rays are a useful diagnostic tool for dentists as they work with their patients to maintain good oral health. They help your dentist more accurately diagnose cavities, monitor bone loss caused by periodontal disease, detect infections, and see how the jaw is developing in children.
A traditional X-ray (your dentist calls this a "bitewing" X-ray) involves the four corners of the mouth and emits about .005 millisieverts of radiation, according to the American College of Radiology. This is the same amount of radiation you may receive in the course of a day from the sun and is considered "negligible." During the x-ray, you are protected from unnecessary radiation exposure to other parts of the body by wearing a lead shield or apron, sometimes with a collar. Dentistry has made great advances to lower the radiation dose administered. Today, it is just tenths of seconds.
The digital X-rays that many dentists use today require even less radiation than traditional ones, making them a good choice for patients who are undergoing complicated restoration work or who want the lowest radiation possible. The average digital dental x-ray is equivalent to sitting and watching television for a few minutes.
As a patient, you do have a choice. You do not have to get an X-ray if you don't feel comfortable. However, if you are facing significant dental work, they can be useful.
The next time you visit your dentist, start a conversation about why and how often you need an X-ray. If you are concerned about safety, it is important that you to talk to your dentist about his or her philosophy on the use and frequency of x-rays.
The goal is to feel more comfortable, whichever route you decide to take.