A study recently published in the journal Cancer reports an increased risk of a common brain tumor when patients are exposed to certain kinds of dental x-rays. According to the researchers, the tumors—intracranial meningiomas that form in the tissues that line the brain—have been linked to bitewing images.
In response to this study, the American Dental Association released a statement reiterating its position that dental x-rays should be ordered only when necessary for diagnosis and treatment. For several years, the dental profession and the manufacturers of dental radiography devices have advocated the ALARA standard for radiation exposure—"as low as reasonably achievable."
As a firm believer in both less is more and everything in moderation—and as a dental patient for more than 40 years and an editor in the dental industry for almost 20 years—I have a couple of thoughts about this news.
The dental profession and the standards dentists abide by have changed. As a patient in the 1960s and 1970s, I received dental x-rays at almost every visit, but that's certainly not true today. The current guidelines and digital radiography devices now available have made a huge difference in the use of these diagnostic/treatment tools.
Now, my dentist only takes x-rays when absolutely necessary to make a diagnosis and to plan treatment. My experience has allowed me to see that dentists are aware of the potential risks and have my best interests in mind.
I equate this news to what we learned several years ago about antibiotics. They don't cure everything and it’s important for both healthcare providers and patients to know and understand the risk and benefits. But that doesn’t mean that we throw antibiotics out the window and never use them.
Thoughtful choices need to be made everyday in healthcare settings, and that includes when and when not to use x-rays in the dental office. Both patients and clinicians should continue to monitor studies as more information becomes available.