Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

Image Credit: bolandrotor / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Are Dental X-Rays Safe?

Every year, doctors cause an estimated 29,000 cancers a year dosing patients with X-rays during CAT scans (see Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation). What about dentists? 100 million Americans are exposed to dental X-rays every year, but don’t the lead apron and thyroid shield protect our vital organs? All our vital organs except one, our brain!

A study entitled “Dental X-Rays and Risk of Meningioma,” was recently published. The objective was to explore the association between dental X-rays—the most common artificial source of high-energy radiation—and the risk of intracranial meningioma, the most common type of brain tumor.

The researchers found that those who report ever having a bitewing X-ray had twice the odds of a brain tumor, and those that got a panoramic series—the full mouth X-rays—before age 10 had nearly 5 times the odds (see my 3-min video Do Dental X-Rays Cause Brain Tumors? for details).

While more research is needed, the bottom line is the benefits and risks of radiation exposure must always be carefully weighed. Dentists should consider the justification for every exposure. Furthermore, dentists should not prescribe routine dental X-rays at preset intervals for all patients (such as every 6 months or year, etc.). Says who? Says the official recommendations of the American Dental Association. There is little evidence to support irradiating people looking at all the teeth in search of hidden problems in asymptomatic patients. Accordingly, dentists should select patients wisely—only take X-rays when there is patient-specific reason to believe there is a reasonable expectation the X-rays will offer unique information influencing diagnosis or treatment.

The last time I was at at the dentist for my check-up I was again offered a set of full mouth X-rays (because I was “due”). Normally when I refuse routine dental X-rays I’ve just explained that I try to minimize my radiation exposure, but this time I was able to refuse “as per the official recommendation of the American Dental Association!” I just got a blank stare.

More on avoiding brain tumors in:

This is the third in a five part video series on preventing and mediating the adverse effects of radiation exposure. The first, Fukushima and Radioactivity in Seafood, described the natural and artificial sources of radioactive isotopes in our diet. The previous video, Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation detailed the estimated 29,000 cancers that doctors cause with CAT scans every year. I also have videos on Mediating Radiation Exposure from Air Travel, in which I talk about those full-body scanners in airports. And I close out with ways to mediate all these risks with Reducing Radiation Damage With Ginger And Lemon Balm.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


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