Do Dental X-Rays Cause Brain Tumors?

Do Dental X-Rays Cause Brain Tumors?
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Getting bitewing or full mouth (panoramic) X-rays at the dentist may be associated with an increased risk of meningioma, the most common type of brain tumor.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Every year, doctors cause an estimated 29,000 cancers, dosing patients with X-rays during CAT scans. What about dentists? A hundred million Americans are exposed to dental X-rays every year—but, what about the lead apron and the thyroid shield? Doesn’t that cover up all your vital organs? All your vital organs except one, called the brain. “Dental X-Rays and Risk of Meningioma.” “The objective of this study was to examine the association between dental X-rays—the most common artificial source of ionizing radiation—and the risk of intracranial meningioma [the most common type of brain tumor].”

They found that those who report ever having a bitewing X-ray had about twice the odds of a brain tumor, and those that got a panoramic series (the full-mouth X-rays) before age ten had nearly five times the odds.

So, does that mean dental X-rays cause brain tumors? Well, the jury is still out. Just because dental X-rays are associated with brain tumors, argued a group of dental radiologists, doesn’t necessarily mean the X-rays caused the brain tumors—maybe, brain tumors caused the X-rays! Seriously; they criticized the paper for not entertaining alternative explanations, such as, you know, the facial pain that can be caused by brain tumors, triggering the need for dental radiographs—meaning you go to your dentist because your face hurts, and your dentist orders some X-rays. Little do either of you know it could have been a brain tumor all along.

Or, maybe there’s a third variable, such as head trauma, resulting in both additional X-rays and brain tumors. Getting hit in the head as a kid actually increases your risk of developing a brain tumor, and getting hit in the head is also a good way to end up in a dentist chair, getting X-rays for broken teeth. While more research is being done, the bottom line is, “[a]s with all sources of artificial ionizing radiation, considered use of this modifiable risk factor may be of benefit to patients. This means that the dentist should consider carefully the justification for every exposure.” This means “[d]entists should not prescribe routine dental X-rays at preset intervals for all patients,” like every six months, or every year, or whatever. Says who?

Says the official recommendation of the American Dental Association. “Dentists should not prescribe routine dental X-rays at preset intervals…” There is little evidence to support irradiating people looking at all the teeth in search of hidden problems in asymptomatic patients. “Accordingly, [doctors] should select patients wisely—only [take X-rays] when there is [a] patient-specific reason to believe there is a reasonable expectation the [X-rays] will offer unique information influencing diagnosis or treatment.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Nightryder84Nevit DilmenCasey R. Hutchens, & Dr Michel Royon via Wikimedia; and SoulSoap via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Every year, doctors cause an estimated 29,000 cancers, dosing patients with X-rays during CAT scans. What about dentists? A hundred million Americans are exposed to dental X-rays every year—but, what about the lead apron and the thyroid shield? Doesn’t that cover up all your vital organs? All your vital organs except one, called the brain. “Dental X-Rays and Risk of Meningioma.” “The objective of this study was to examine the association between dental X-rays—the most common artificial source of ionizing radiation—and the risk of intracranial meningioma [the most common type of brain tumor].”

They found that those who report ever having a bitewing X-ray had about twice the odds of a brain tumor, and those that got a panoramic series (the full-mouth X-rays) before age ten had nearly five times the odds.

So, does that mean dental X-rays cause brain tumors? Well, the jury is still out. Just because dental X-rays are associated with brain tumors, argued a group of dental radiologists, doesn’t necessarily mean the X-rays caused the brain tumors—maybe, brain tumors caused the X-rays! Seriously; they criticized the paper for not entertaining alternative explanations, such as, you know, the facial pain that can be caused by brain tumors, triggering the need for dental radiographs—meaning you go to your dentist because your face hurts, and your dentist orders some X-rays. Little do either of you know it could have been a brain tumor all along.

Or, maybe there’s a third variable, such as head trauma, resulting in both additional X-rays and brain tumors. Getting hit in the head as a kid actually increases your risk of developing a brain tumor, and getting hit in the head is also a good way to end up in a dentist chair, getting X-rays for broken teeth. While more research is being done, the bottom line is, “[a]s with all sources of artificial ionizing radiation, considered use of this modifiable risk factor may be of benefit to patients. This means that the dentist should consider carefully the justification for every exposure.” This means “[d]entists should not prescribe routine dental X-rays at preset intervals for all patients,” like every six months, or every year, or whatever. Says who?

Says the official recommendation of the American Dental Association. “Dentists should not prescribe routine dental X-rays at preset intervals…” There is little evidence to support irradiating people looking at all the teeth in search of hidden problems in asymptomatic patients. “Accordingly, [doctors] should select patients wisely—only [take X-rays] when there is [a] patient-specific reason to believe there is a reasonable expectation the [X-rays] will offer unique information influencing diagnosis or treatment.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Nightryder84Nevit DilmenCasey R. Hutchens, & Dr Michel Royon via Wikimedia; and SoulSoap via flickr

Doctor's Note

I was just actually at the dentist for my check-up, and 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 & Radioactivity in Seafood, described the natural and artificial sources of radioactive isotopes in our diet. In Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation, I detailed the estimated 29,000 cancers that doctors cause with CAT scans every year. In Mediating Radiation Exposure from Air Travel, I talk about those full-body scanners in airports, and close out with ways to mediate all these risks by Reducing Radiation Damage with Ginger & Lemon Balm.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Are Dental X-Rays Safe?Fukushima Radiation & Seafood; and Dealing with Air Travel Radiation Exposure.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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