Dental x-rays and brain cancer

Wheaton family dental practice

I will start by stating that, asking a 60 year old how many and what kind of dental xrays they had before they were 10 years old, is highly unlikely to give you accurate data.  Does anyone reading this have any clue how many dental xrays you got when you were under 10?  Do you know the difference between bite-wings and a pano AND remember how many of each were taken then?I am not joking here is one of there main findings “Panoramic X-rays taken at a young age, especially if done yearly or more often before age 10, also raised the risk of meningiomas by up to five times.” which was found by doing this “The interviewers also asked — among other things — about the person’s history of dental work and the number of times they had the three types of dental x-rays taken throughout their life.”

A more likely explanation is that someone with a deadly brain cancer will “remember” many more instances of when they possibly had any type of radiation exposure, especially if they think it might have something to do with their cancer.  If these “researchers” wanted the truth, and not just a big headline that would secure their future funding, they would dig up these patients dental
records.  We keep records a very long time.  My partner, who just had is 40th year in practice, has nearly every chart he ever wrote in; so there is plenty of real data out there.

To my patients out there, everything that was ever done to you in our office is recorded and in your file RIGHT NOW.  We have many families with all three living generations seeing us right now.  Many adults have been with our practice their entire life, meaning we have a record of every dental xray taken on them in their entire life.  I would love to compare real numbers with those recalled by individuals decades later.  In fact I think the results of that study would be more interesting and more informative than this current one.I don’t want to minimize the true risks of radiation but it needs to be kept in perspective.  Also, even if the findings from this study are accurate, they are totally irrelevant to today’s dental experience.  As the years have gone by dental xrays have required less and less radiation as the quality of the film has improved.  Today we use all digital xrays which expose patients to about 50-90% less than film xrays.  I have only seen F film in practice since graduating school in 2004, and with digital that is even now obsolete.  The higher the letter the less radiation.

Another reason this data is no longer relevant in today’s dental experience is that in the past every patient got bite-wings every 6 months no matter what.  Today we follow the ALARA protocol with all our patients, and have in my office for the past 20 years.  What this means is that if you are a low risk individual, anyone with a low history of dental decay, then we only take bite-wings every 18-24 months.  We never take bite-wings more than once a year on anyone.  We take a full mouth or a pano just once every 5-10 years, with most of the people being at 8-10 years.  Again these are all digital xrays and are significantly lower than those “studied” in this report.

I hope this puts to rest some unfounded concern many patients may have about these over-exaggerated “studies” that come out and the media runs with to try to generate big headlines.  I compare this study to those times you hear a local news reporter say something like, “There is a dangerous appliance in your house that may be producing toxins that are killing you and your children, find out what after this break.”  Here is an official response form AGD, one of our main organizations.  Click here to read the press release from the American Dental Association in response to this study.  Click here to read the press release from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.  All three links expired and I didn’t re-find.  One probably can if motivated enough.

Bryan Bauer DDS