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Are Dental X-rays Bad For You?

At the time I originally wrote this for "Health Talk", dental x-rays had come under fire after a study associated them with a benign brain tumor. Does this mean you should stop having dental x-rays?


Here are a couple things to consider about that study:


   The data was collected by survey--which means it was relying on people to accurately report their history of dental x-rays. Survey questions are considered a weak scientific source as they can be subject to recall bias where the question predisposes the person answering to give an expected response.

   Some study participants received their dental x-rays as long ago as the 1960s, when dental x-rays were quite different than the ones used today.


Dental professionals do agree that this study suggests an association between dental x-rays and this specific type of brain tumor, and that this association should be studied further. But we also know that dental x-rays are often necessary to diagnose a problem.


Neglecting your oral health has serious risks not only to your mouth but to your entire body. Tooth abscesses and mouth infections can cause death. Dental x-rays are valuable in providing information about cavities, gum disease, infections and tumors.


Areas in between your teeth are not able to be seen or inspected by dental instruments, nor can your dentist see problems located under your gums or involving the bone around your teeth. Dental x-rays often can find these problems earlier, when they are easier and less expensive to fix, than if you wait for the problem to become known.


Today’s dental x-rays are extremely low radiation. Faster film speeds and better x-ray machines combine to make the average for one dental x-ray 3 millirem. In contrast, just being outside will give you 350 millirem from background cosmic radiation (over 100 times what you’d get from 1 dental x-ray) and a mammogram is 500 millirem for each breast (making a complete exam over 300 times what you get from 1 dental x-ray). Digital x-rays often produce even less raditation than their film counterparts. 


Your dentist can help determine what interval between dental x-rays is best for your specific oral health situation so that you may keep your x-ray exposure “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” (ALARA). Some factors that your dentist will take into consideration are:

   Your past and present oral health conditions

   Your age

   Your risk for oral diseases

   Symptoms of oral problems that you report

   Signs of oral problems that he or she sees during your examination


If you have questions about dental x-rays, your dentist should be able to address them with you. If you do not have a dentist, we’d be happy to have you become part of my practice. Please give us a call at 440-960-1940 or use the contact form on my website www.drjrobb.com


*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.