Another sensational news story has again hit the media, this time about dental X-rays and cancer, potentially scaring people away from necessary dental care. Below is the response by the American Dental Association I received today, and I want you to read the short response, as well as my personal response afterwards.
A study published April 10, 2012 in Cancer, a scientific journal of the American Cancer Society, associates yearly or more frequent dental X-rays with an increased risk of developing meningioma, the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor. This type of tumor is usually not malignant. The study has received widespread media coverage, and a number of the stories cite the ADA’s dental x-ray recommendations that help dentists determine how to keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievable. In addition, the ADA has also published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, recommendations on dental radiographic procedures.
The ADA issued a press statement about the study, noting that the findings were based on patient recall of x-rays taken years ago and citing the ADA’s long-standing position that dentists should order dental X-rays for patients only when necessary for diagnosis and treatment. Note this quote from the study’s lead author in an MSNBC story:
“Our take home message is don’t panic. Don’t stop going to the dentist,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Claus, a neurological surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Yale School of Public Health.
In a U.S. News and World Report story, ADA media spokesperson Dr. Matthew Messina states that one of the weaknesses of the study is that people’s memories about their X-rays are unclear. “It’s difficult to pin this down,” he said, especially without dental records.
Dr. Messina added that the amount of radiation in dental X-rays has gone down significantly over the years, thanks to factors such as advancements in X-ray technology, faster speed X-ray film and the advent of digital X-rays. The study was also observational in nature, meaning it can show an association but not cause-and-effect.
“It’s always good for patients to talk to their dentists about why they’re getting X-rays and what is being done to shield the patient,” Dr. Messina concluded.
What you should know in addition to what the ADA said is the following:
1. For over a decade now, we have been using digital X-rays, which results in us using 80-90% less radiation that we were using standard X-ray films in as recent a time as the year 2000.
2. This reduced exposure from a series of 18 X-ray “films” is much less than the X-radiation you get from the sun in only an hour’s time.
3. Our radiation equipment is inspected and approved by the Arkansas Department of Health every year and meets all standards.
4. We use lead aprons with thyroid collars on them because of recent concerns about protecting the thyroid gland, despite conflicting evidence.
5. Our X-ray machines use collimators which prohibit any scattering of dental X-rays to any part of the head. The only area exposed is the open end of the X-ray tube (collimator).
6. I have never had a patient in 29 years of patient care who developed a menangioma (brain tumor).
7. We strictly follow the ADA guidelines for use of dental X-rays for diagnostic measures.
8. MOST OF ALL, I am severely limited in providing an accurate diagnosis without a dental X-ray. Like you, I cannot “see” under a filling, crown, gums, or in the bone without the aid of an X-ray.
As the lead researcher said, “don’t stop going to the dentist”.
I hope this helps you separate fact from another sensational news story. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to call or contact me in any way.