Dental Health Info Article

Dental X-Rays Risks:

For decades, dentists have relied on dental x-rays to get an inside peek into the teeth, bones and surrounding soft tissues in order to accurate pinpoint dental problems. While the photo-image has been deemed incredibly helpful, effective and safe enough, research has indicated that dental X-rays could potential increase the risk of the developing common brain tumors.

The view provided by digital radiology comes courtesy of small bursts of radiation. Lighter images indicate solid tooth matter where darker spots can help dentists find signs of tooth decay, cavities or wisdom teeth not visible to the naked eye. The X-ray machine has been an essential tool in dental clinics for countless years and while the Food and Drug Administration (the government agency charged with overseeing the approval and use of the machines) deem digital radiology safe, findings from a case controlled study has proved the imagining process is not without its risks.

X-Rays and Brain Tumors

Findings published in Cancer, (a scientific journal of the American Cancer Society) have shown that dental x-rays can double the chance of a meningioma (a common brain tumor) from occurring.The data evaluation conducted by scientists from Yale, Harvard and other prestigious institutions has noted an increase of the specific brain tumor in relation to dental X-rays.

In relation to the specific type of brain tumor, the meningioma can grow, but will not spread to other areas of the body. Annually, 5,000 new patients are diagnosed with the condition and even without treatment will continue to live long, healthy lives (

Scientists interviewed 1,433 study participants all diagnosed with meningioma. That data was compared to the results collected by 1,350 people with no signs of the condition. This case study revealed:

  • An increased tumor risk increased in people who reported receiving bitewing exams that used X-ray film held in place by a tab. The X-rays were delivered at least once a year.
  • An increased tumor risk linked to the panorex dental exam that relies on an exterior x-ray to properly image all teeth.
  • Adults who reported having panorex dental exams during their childhood (as defined as being younger than age ten) had a five times greater risk of developing the brain tumors.

Thyroid Cancer and X-Rays

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the neck. It is responsible for regulating how the body uses energy, produces proteins and manages a body's sensitivity to other hormones. A U.K based team has indicated that exposure to multiple dental X-rays can increase the odds of developing thyroid cancer.

According to the report published in medical journal Acta Oncologica, the work conducted by the research team has shown that thyroid cancer risk increases as the quantity of dental x-rays taken is increased. The information was garnered by analyzing 313 thyroid cancer patients in Kuwait. In Kuwait, dental treatment and dental services are free and compared to other countries (including the UK) lacking complimentary dental care, the degree of thyroid cancer is exponentially high.

X-Rays and Cancer Risk

According to Idaho State University "The average person in the United States receives about 360 mrem [the measure of radiation exposure to patients annually] every year whole body equivalent dose from background sources." According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (New York, United Nations, 2000), diagnostic X-rays comprise for 14 percent of the total annual radiation exposure created by both man-made and natural sources around the globe.

According to Berrington de Gonzalez A and Darby S (2004) additional radiation may increase the risk of a person developing cancer by age 75 by .6 percent to 1.8 percent. Some body areas, including the thyroid, are more sensitive to the radiation. Other case studies have indicated that an odds of a baby developing leukemia are increased by a father's exposure to diagnostic x-rays during the time periods surrounding the act of conception.

According to 1-800-Dentist, today's dental X-rays are much safer than those of yesteryear as they process delivers lower levels of radiation and "[i]n fact, digital X-rays use up to 90 percent less radiation than film X-rays." Additionally, dentists take precautions (in the form of requiring patients to wear lead vests during imaging) to minimize the chance of harmful radiation exposure.

Patients still concerned about the risks associated with X-rays can request skipping the imaging for a general exam, however that may provide dentists with a limited view of dental health. Individuals looking for a dentist who specializing in minimizing a patients exposure to radiation can call 1-800-Dentist to get the name of a great dentist up who specializes in the field.