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New Dental X-ray Danger

June 1, 2012
Bottom Line Health
Keith Black, MD

Does your dentist take X-rays every time you get a checkup? If so, there’s a new study that you should know about.

Researchers from Yale and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that people (mean age 57) who received “bitewing” exams (using X-ray film held in place by a tab between the teeth) yearly or more frequently over their lifetimes were 50% more likely than a control group to develop a meningioma, a noncancerous brain tumor that can cause headaches, vision problems and loss of speech, during a five-year period. People who had been given “panorex” exams (X-rays that show all of the teeth on one film) one or more times a year had triple the risk.

It is true that modern dental X-rays use less radiation than in the past, but any exposure is risky.

“I go to the dentist two or three times a year, but haven’t had an X-ray in probably 10 years,” says Keith Black, MD, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Dr. Black’s advice…

Article Continues Below

Refuse “routine” X-rays. If your dentist has examined your teeth and deemed them healthy, don’t allow him/her to take an X-ray “just to be safe.” Risk for a brain tumor increases with every X-ray.

Limit the exposure. If you have a cavity or other problems, ask your dentist to X-ray only that area.

Less is more. The American Dental Association recommends that adults get their teeth X-rayed every two to three years (children—one X-ray every one to two years). Unless your dentist needs to evaluate a specific problem or plan a procedure, you don’t need an X-ray.