Are dental x-rays dangerous?

A new study pointing to a correlation between a type of tumor known as meningioma and dental x-rays was released recently. We feel it is important to acknowledge and address this study and keep our patients informed so that they can make the best decisions regarding their treatment.   

Reading some of the headlines can be pretty scary if you don’t have all the information available. A Google search for “dental x-rays” turned up results such as “Are Dental X-rays Causing Brain Tumors” and “Yearly Dental X-rays Raise Brain Tumor Risk.”  

Let’s examine these claims more closely: 

  • One of the key points to recognize is that this study pertains to “past” x-rays. It is important to note that modern x-rays utilize much lower doses of radiation due to advances in technology and increased film speeds. Our office uses digital x-rays, which use significantly less radiation – as much as 80% less.
  • The study relies on a patient’s memory. Many of our patients are surprised to learn that it has been over a year since we last took any x-rays. They “could just swear” that they had x-rays at their last visit. Be honest: can you remember what dental x-rays you had taken 5 years ago? 10 years? How about 20 to 60 years ago? That’s how far back this study is asking patients to remember. The American Dental Association’s media spokesperson, Dr. Matthew Messina, says one of the weaknesses of the study is that people’s memories about their x-rays are unclear. It is difficult to pin down, especially without the actual x-rays themselves.
  • The specific type of tumor mentioned is usually benign, rarely cancerous. There are also studies that seem to indicate that genetics play a role. Some of the symptoms associated with meningioma include vision changes, worsening headaches, hearing loss, memory loss, weakness in the extremities, and seizures.

In our office, we like to look at risk factors: your gums and bone, your bite, and your teeth themselves. As we've said before, our philosophy is "the best dentistry is no dentistry."

Some of our patients are at an increased risk in one or more areas, however, and may need to have diagnostic x-rays more frequently. For instance: 

  • Children, depending on age, are more likely to develop cavities. We are also monitoring growth and development during their developmental years. Teenagers need to be monitored for possible problems with wisdom teeth.
  • Patients with extensive existing restorations (crowns and/or fillings) have an increased risk for decay to develop under these restorations, where they can’t be seen with the naked eye. 
  • Patients who have a high sugar intake are at an increased risk for developing cavities.
  • Patients with periodontal disease may need more frequent x-rays to monitor bone levels.
  • Patients with dry mouth, whether due to medications or illness. Saliva helps to maintain a stable pH in the mouth. When there is reduced saliva, the pH decreases, which contributes to cavity development. 

 For more information on x-rays, please visit the American Dental Association’s website