Summer vacation is a time to catch up on routine doctor visits and routine screening procedures. Here’s why I stopped getting routine dental x-rays.
As with any medical issue, you have to be your own advocate. Since I can remember, I have never followed my dentists’ recommendations on x-rays.
It seemed to me that dental x-rays every 6 months or even every year was way too frequent for my liking. Finally, my stance on this issue has been vindicated.
In this study published in the journal Cancer in 2012, the researchers found that dental x-rays, particularly when obtained frequently and at a young age, may be associated with a statistically significant increased risk of intracranial meningioma.
It’s common knowledge that x-rays expose people to ionizing radiation that is cumulative. The more x-rays you get over a lifetime, the more exposure to ionizing radiation that accumulates in the surrounding tissues. and may alter the DNA.
This study found the increased risk for meningioma in people who underwent routine bitewing or panoramic x-rays.
The researchers reported,
The findings presented here are important, because dental x-rays remain the most common artificial source of exposure to ionizing radiation for individuals living in the United States.
Meningioma is the most common type of primary brain tumor and is generally benign (90%). It arises from the membranes that surround and protect the brain, called the meninges. However, if a tumor pushes inward, it can press upon brain tissue and would need to be treated with surgery or radiation treatment (ironically).
Typically, a small meningioma is simply watched and not treated. Upwards of 170,000 people have been diagnosed with meningioma in this country. Are these the people who go to the dentist consistently?
Children are smaller and more susceptible to the negative effects of ionizing radiation as their tissues and glands are still growing.
Keith L. Black MD, chair and professor of the Department of Neurosurgery, director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, and director of the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California said,
The importance of this study is that it shows that this is not a procedure with zero risk… As a general rule, we need to be more concerned about x-ray exposure, particularly in the younger population.
Derek Johnson, MD, a neurologist who specializes in neuro-oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota said,
I think this is the best and most conclusive evidence to date that low-dose repeated exposure — the kind of thing we come into contact with relatively regularly in our day-to-day life — is likely a true risk factor for this particular tumor.
Dr. Black advises,
Patients and parents should have conversations with their dentists about the risks and benefits of dental x-rays… so they can make the most informed, intelligent decisions about when to get them. Dental x-rays should not be indiscriminately used as a yearly screening test for patients. They should use them only when they’re only critically necessary.
Thank you Dr. Black. This is what I have been saying for years and many dentists have not appreciated it one bit.
Sometimes folks are intimidated by health professionals and simply follow their recommendations. However, not all health protocols are in the best interest of the patient. While dental x-rays may help diagnose problems — or evaluate problems further, a skilled dentist should be able to look in someone’s mouth and see a cavity without need for a screening x-ray.
I never saw the sense in yearly dental x-rays and would refuse them, knowing that my dentist would see a cavity and certainly I would feel pain at some point if there was a cavity. I also knew that I ate well and took care of my teeth and gums so that I wouldn’t have these types of problems.
I was certainly shocked to learn that some dentists actually take routine x-rays every 6 months! Frankly, I think that is abusive and harmful to the patient.
The rationale is that some people do not take care of their teeth – which is true – but excessive exposure to ionizing radiation not a good alternative.
Clearly we are talking about the excessive use of routine dental x-rays. If I have pain, I will consent to an x-ray of the tooth. If you are a person that gets a lot of cavities (of have a child that does) you have to reevaluate the diet and dental hygiene habits and try to improve them.
Note: I have been told by several dentists that the area between the teeth are difficult to see without an x-ray, so if you have problems with cavities between the teeth, that would be a rationale for using as few x-rays as possible to visualize this area.
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What do you do when your dentist wants to do x-rays? Leave a comment and let me know!
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