Dental Visits, Ionizing Radiation Exposure and Cancer Risk

By Dr. Sharon Gurm BSc, ND, Naturopathic Physician, Clinic Founder & Clinical Director

A recent study published in the journal Cancer this past month demonstrates that early and repeated lifetime exposure to ionizing radiation from dental x-rays significantly increases the risk of developing meningiomas – the most common type of brain tumor reported in the US. The importance of this study needs to be emphasized because it highlights the dangers posed by dental x-rays. The results of the study clearly demonstrate that it is not a procedure with zero risk.

Over a lifetime, patients with meningioma were more than twice as likely as control subjects to have received a biteviewing exam, which uses an x-ray film held in place by a tab between the teeth. Biteviewing exams are relatively common. Less common are panorex exams, which offer a 2-dimensional view of the teeth and surrounding bones. Panorex exams were associated with a notably higher risk for meningioma among those screened when young and among those who had the exams yearly or more often.

The study offers an opportunity to bring awareness to the importance of optimal dental x-ray use, as exposure to ionizing radiation in dentistry is a modifiable risk factor. Patients and parents should have a clear and thorough discussion with their dentist about the risks and benefits of dental imaging in any given case.

As there are some clearly defined risks to ionizing exposure (even greater for the younger population) it is of critical importance that the dentist and patient or parents make an informed and intelligent decision about the need for x-ray. Procedures requiring the use of ionizing radiation should be limited to those situations when absolutely required rather than incorporated as part of a routine check up or when there is no evidence of a problem.

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