You may have read or heard about a recent study conducted at Yale concerning a potential link between dental x-rays and a specific type of non-cancerous brain tumor called a meningioma. Because the study was published online in April 2012 in the medical journal Cancer, it received significant press coverage that could, in fact, scare people away from having dental x-rays that are needed to preserve their oral and overall general health.
Too frequently, consumers hearing such reports are not provided (or overlook) the context that puts the actual risk into perspective. And too frequently, consumers also lack the context about what type of study is valid for their own decision making, versus what is a study that helps to establish whether there is even a possible hypothesis that warrants an official, well-controlled study. In this case, Yale was reporting findings that were based on patient recollection of x-ray histories spanning decades, rather than actual data. This is technique that is generally proven to introduce study bias and distortion of results. Until such time as a controlled study occurs and results become available, even the Yale study author is encouraging patients not to stop seeing their dentists and to continue to follow the ADA guidelines about having dental x-rays.
As a general safety precaution, you can consider the type of dental x-ray technology being used by your dentist. Digital dental x-rays can result in less radiation, although not all dentists use this newer technology. The quick and easy tip-off as to whether your dentist is using dental x-rays is the large monitors that are located in exam rooms. Digital x-rays offer several advantages:
- Lower radiation exposure – Depending on what type of x-ray technology was being used in the past, having digital x-rays can reduce radiation exposure by around 80 percent, as compared to conventional (film) x-rays. It should also be noted that dental bitewing x-rays use only a fraction of the radiation used in most routine medical x-rays, such as chest and gastrology x-rays. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that “dental X-rays contribute approximately one percent of the total dose of exposure in health care settings.
- Less time in the dentist’s office – The process for digital x-rays is streamlined. There is no need for you to wait while the film is developing.
- Better patient communication – The large screen where your dentist displays your x-rays allows you to see any problem areas the dentist is concerned about. It also is a convenient aid in helping you to understand as much as you’d like to know about a recommended treatment procedure.
- Better basis for comparison – As compared to comparing film x-rays, digital x-rays support digital comparisons. That means you are not wholly dependent on the dentist’s eyes to assess the extent of change from one set of x-rays to the next. This can lead to better preventive treatment – before serious problems develop.
- Better for the environment – The elimination of chemicals used for (conventional) film development also represents a commitment by your dentist to be more environmentally conscious.
Don’t Be Alarmed by a Preliminary Study, Do Look into Digital X-rays
If the study did cause you to have concerns, don’t be afraid to discuss those with your dentist. The ADA has not changed its recommended policy on the use of x-rays as a result of the study. (Their policy was developed in conjunction with the FDA and published in 2004.) And remember, the reduction in radiation exposure is only one of several benefits associated with the use of digital x-ray technology. The adoption of digital dental x-rays represents a significant financial investment by your dentist to use the best available technology to deliver the best dental care possible. Digital x-rays – they’re worthy of your time and consideration, regardless of the recent Yale study.