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Dental X-rays linked to brain tumors - study

April 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Do dental X-rays increase the risk of brain tumors? A controversial new study raises a lot of questions about the link between the two.

While some question the way the Yale University study was done, everyone agrees that it makes sense to re-evaluate how many dental X-rays you get.

The American Dental Association recommends X-rays of healthy children be taken every 1-2 years and every 2-3 years for healthy adults. Neurosurgeon Dr. Keith Black, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says the radiation from X-rays can scatter to various parts of the brain, and he limits his exposure to these types of X-rays for this reason.

"I haven't had a dental X-ray probably in 10 years," he said.

Black says while X-rays are an important diagnostic tool, it can be overused.

"We have to be concerned about the risk of developing meningiomas, which is a benign tumor, but it can be a fatal tumor with exposure to dental X-rays," Black said.

Meningioma is the most common type of brain tumor that originates in the brain and spinal cord. In the study, people who were diagnosed with meningioma were compared with healthy individuals. The group with tumors were twice as likely to remember having a bitewing X-ray and five times as likely to remember other types of dental X-rays before the age of 10.

"Study after study shows that people who are sick tend to remember things about their medical history in ways that people who are well do not," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical editor.

However, some health experts criticize the methodology, which relies mostly on memory.

"This study was as well done as one could do trying to look back retrospectively," Black said.

Overall, dentists are not surprised that dental X-rays could cause this type of tumor. Cosmetic dentist Kourosh Maddahi says what patients should keep in mind is whether they really need an X-ray.

"You just have to manage the risk properly on people that have had a lot of cavities or have gum disease, you take X-rays in certain areas. In people who have not had a lot of cavities, or they dont' have any type of gum disease, you don't take as many X-rays at all," Maddahi said.

In a statement, the American Dental Association said dentists should order dental X-rays "only when necessary for diagnosis and treatment."

Black points out that while some X-rays are aimed at the jaw, many also hit areas that include the base of the brain.

One thing you can do to minimize exposure: If you change dentists, ask for copies of X-rays so you don't have to redo them. And ask if your dentist has other technologies that can detect cavities without X-rays.


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