A study published today in Cancer, a scientific journal of the American Cancer Society, associates yearly or more frequent dental X-rays with an increased risk of developing meningioma, the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor. This type of tumor is usually not malignant.
Meningiomas affect the lining of the brain and the spinal cord. More than 90% are classified as benign, not malignant. But in some cases they can grow to the size of a baseball and disrupt the brain’s functioning, leading to vision problems, headaches, hearing and memory loss, and seizures.
The problem with the study is that people generally do not remember when they had their X-ray taken. Another problem with the study is that it was observational in nature, meaning it showed an association but not cause-and-effect.
In the study, the researchers examined a group of more than 1,400 patients aged 20 to 79 who were treated for the tumors between 2006 and 2011, and compared them to 1,350 similar people who did not develop the tumors. Those with tumors were more than twice as likely as the others to report having more frequent bitewing X-rays and panorex X-rays.The study did not connect having the X-rays to the risk of getting cancer.
So what should a patient do?
The best thing is to talk to your dentist.
Meantime, consider that the amount of radiation in dental X-rays has gone down significantly over the years, thanks to factors such as the improved speed of X-ray film and the advent of digital X-rays. (We use digital X-ray in our office.)
How do dental X-rays compare to other sources of radiation?
The amount of radiation that we are exposed to from dental X-rays is very small compared to our daily exposure from things like, cosmic radiation and naturally-occurring radioactive elements (for example, those producing radon).
The table below compares the estimated exposure to radiation from dental X-ray with other various sources. As indicated below, a millisievert (mSv) is a unit of measure that allows for some comparison between radiation sources that expose the entire body (such as natural background radiation) and those that only expose a portion of the body (such as X-rays).
Estimated Exposure (mSv)
Lower gastrointestinal tract radiography
Cosmic (Outer Space) Radiation
Average radiation from outer space In Denver, CO (per year)
|Earth and Atmospheric Radiation
Average radiation in the U.S. from Natural sources (per year)
Source: Adapted from Frederiksen NL. X-Rays: What is the Risk? Texas Dental Journal. 1995;112(2):68-72.
For learn more about brain tumors, including meningiomas, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Article Source: American Dental Association