Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A new study which points to a correlation between dental x-rays and meningioma was released this week.   We feel it is important to acknowledge and address this study, and keep our patients informed, so that they can make the best decisions regarding their treatment.   Reading some of the headlines can be pretty scary, if you don’t have all the information available.   A Google search for “dental x-rays” turned up results such as “Are Dental X-rays Causing Brain Tumors” and “Yearly Dental X-rays Raise Brain Tumor Risk”.   Let’s examine these claims more closely. 

  •      One of the key points to recognize is that this study pertains to “past” x-rays.  It is important to note that modern x-rays utilize much lower doses of radiation, due to advances in technology and increased film speeds.   Our office uses digital x-rays, which use significantly less radiation: as much as 80% less.


  •             The specific type of tumor mentioned is usually benign, rarely cancerous.   There are also studies that seem to indicate that genetics play a role.    Symptoms include changes in vision, headaches that worsen over time, hearing or memory loss, seizures and weakness in extremities.

  •     The study relies on a patient’s memory.  Many of our patients are surprised to learn that it has been over a year since we last took any x-rays.  They “could just swear” that they had x-rays at their last visit.  Be honest, can you remember what dental x-rays you had taken 5 years ago? 10 years? How about 20-60 years ago?   That’s how far back this study is asking patients to remember.  American Dental Association’s media spokesperson, Dr. Matthew Messina, says one of the weaknesses of the study is that people’s memories about their x-rays are unclear.  It is difficult to pin down, especially without the x-rays.

  •             Finally, the difference between “linked to” and “causes”.   The study suggests that there is a correlation between the amount of past x-rays and meningioma; it does not suggest that dental x-rays actually cause the tumors.  Even with the flaws, the study does not make the claim that dental x-rays cause cancer, as some of the headlines seem to suggest. 

In our office, we like to look at risk factors: your gums and bone, your bite, and your teeth themselves.  Some of our patients are at an increased risk in one or more areas, and may need to have diagnostic x-rays more frequently.  Those patients would include: 
  •             Children, depending on age, are more likely to develop cavities.  We are also monitoring growth and development during their developmental years.  Teenagers need to be monitored for wisdom teeth. 
  •      Patients with extensive existing restorations (crowns and/or fillings)- there is an increased risk for decay to develop under these restorations, where they can’t be seen with the naked eye. 
  •             Patients who have a high sugar intake are at an increased risk for developing cavities.
  •             Patients with periodontal disease may need more frequent x-rays to monitor bone levels.
  •             Patients with dry mouth, whether due to medications or illness.  Saliva helps to maintain a stable pH in the mouth.  When there is reduced saliva, the pH decreases, which contributes to cavity development. 

For more information on x-rays, please visit the American Dental Association’s website:

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