***UPDATED*** 12/11/12: Once again, the American Dental Association (ADA) is in the news in relation to dental x-rays, this time updating their recommendations for the common practice. The ADA has recently collaborated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an effort to decrease radiation exposure to patients. While not considered regulations, the recommendations urge dentists to weigh the benefits of taking an x-ray with the possible risk of radiation exposure, which if frequently given over time can be harmful. The Association believes that dental x-rays should be prescribed on an individualized basis, given patient’s health history and oral examination results, but recommends that radiation exposure to patients be kept “as low as reasonably achievable.”
There have been several stories released recently involving a study that has shown a correlation between dental X-rays and brain tumors. The study was published in an American Cancer Society journal, Cancer, and it found that people with meningiomas (brain tumors that are generally benign), reported more frequently that they experienced specific types of dental x-rays in the past. In response, the American Dental Association (ADA) has released a press statement about their thoughts on the matter, as described in the article, “ADA releases statement on dental X-rays study,” by Jean Williams, and found on the ADA website.
The press statement, released on April 10, 2012, comments on the fact that the results rely heavily on the participants’ ability to recall their dental x-ray history, which has been shown to be an imperfect method of gathering data. Therefore, the ADA claims the results of any study that uses this design, including the current one in question, can be classified as unreliable. The study focused on 1,433 patients who had intracranial meningiomas diagnosed from ages 20 to 79. Interviews and questionnaires were used to collect data. Participants reported the number of times they experienced bitewing, full-mouth, or panoramic films during four periods of time: birth to 10, 10 to 19, 20 to 49, and up to age 50. Dr. Alan G. Lurie, head of radiology at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine and president of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology (AAOMR), believes the study is very flawed, and that portions of the released report aren’t even biologically possible. He believes that recall bias on the part of the patients involved may be to blame for the discrepancies.
While Dr. Lurie is considered an expert in the field, he was sure to stress that his comments are his alone, and do not represent the views of the AAOMR, as they are preparing their own statement to be released soon. The story was broadcast over several news mediums, including Good Morning America, USA Today, and ABC World News, leading some to fear how the general public will react to the results. The worst case scenario has individuals feeling even more anxious about going to the dentist for routine check-ups and allowing their oral health to suffer based on factors they don’t even understand. It’s important to remember that the study concluded that “exposure to some dental X-rays performed in the past, when radiation exposure was greater than in the current era, appears to be associated with an increased risk of intracranial meningioma.” Nowhere in that statement does it say that getting an x-ray at the dentist will give you brain tumors. Neglecting dental care is far worse for your overall health than getting an x-ray ever will be.