Most insurance companies pay for two yearly visits to the dentist, and X-rays once a year. Even though the X-rays are free, you might want to pass the next time you visit the dentist. New research shows it could increase your chance of getting a brain tumor. However, some industry experts say the research is flawed.
We hear about new studies that show we have an increased risk of this or that disease all the time. In my opinion, this one stands out, because so many well known institutions were involved in the study and because it addresses a procedure we get without thinking about the risks. Why would you think otherwise when you’re not paying for it? It’s not even a question at most dentist offices. They just tell you to open up and stick the bite wings in your mouth for the X-ray. The reason — it’s time to get the X-ray because it’s been six months.
The next time your dentist tells you to open wide, you might want to ask about this new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Yale University School of Medicine, Duke University, UCSF and Baylor College of Medicine. The researchers found you have an increased risk of developing a certain type of brain tumor if you’ve had frequent dental X-rays.
The brain tumor is meningioma. It’s the most common brain tumor in the United States, and the study shows there’s a connection between ionizing radiation exposure and your risk for developing this tumor.
The study looked at 1,433 patients who developed this tumor between 20 and 79 years of age, and compared the results with a control group of 1350 participants. The patients with the tumor were twice as likely to report having a bitewing X-ray at the dentist. The risk went up for those who had a panorex X-ray.
“This research suggests that although dental x-rays are an important tool in maintaining good oral health, efforts to moderate exposure to this form of imaging may be of benefit to some patients,” said Yale University School of Medicine and BWH neurosurgeon, Elizabeth Claus, MD, PhD.
American Dental Association responds
So, what should you do? Take advantage of the service that’s typically free or pass on it? You don’t want to miss a cavity and have to endure more pain and a more costly procedure later on. The answer depends on who you believe.
The American Dental Association said the study is “unreliable” because it relied on an individual’s memory of X-rays. Do you know how many you’ve had in the last few years?
In a prepared statement, the ADA said, “Studies have shown that the ability to recall information is often imperfect. Therefore, the results of studies that use this design can be unreliable because they are affected by what scientists call ‘recall bias.’ ”
Other doctors and specialists are supporting the ADA’s position.
X-rays have come a long way, so the one you receive today at the dentist has a lot less radiation. These studies often leave more questions than answers, but they should prompt you to have a conversation with your dentist or doctor. Don’t let the decision be automatic. Have a conversation. Don’t let your dentist be persuaded by the insurance company’s decision to pay for the service. If the service isn’t free, it might make it easier to have an unbiased conversation.
Weigh the risks and benefits, and decide for yourself.