Dental X-rays Increase Brain Cancer Risks

Meningioma linked with frequent dental xrays

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) X-rays are a common part of ongoing dental care. You've probably had more than one of them. And while helpful for visualizing the structure of your teeth, dental x-rays can be dangerous, according to new research.

Frequent dental x-rays may increase the risk of developing meningioma, the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor in the United States.

"You can refuse to have dental x-rays."

Ionizing radiation is a known cancer risk factor. Dental x-rays use ionizing radiation to produce images of your teeth, bite, cavities, fillings, gum line and abnormalities.

To learn if dental x-rays were associated with meningioma, a research team led by Elizabeth Claus, M.D., Ph.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, examined the records of 1,433 people between the ages of 20 and 79 diagnosed with the disease.

Researchers also examined data on a control group of 1,350 people who had similar characteristics, but had not been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Here's what researchers found that over a lifetime:

  • People with meningioma were twice as likely to have ever had a bitewing exam, (x-ray film is placed between the teeth) than people in the control group.
  • Patients who had had bitewing x-rays at least annually were 1.4 to 1.9 times more likely to have the brain tumor than people without the cancer.
  • Risks varied according to the age of the individual at the time of the exam.
  • Panorex x-rays of the whole mouth taken at either a young age or on at least an annual basis increased the risks even further.
  • Those who'd had these exams before the age of 10 were nearly 5X (4.9) more like to develop meningioma.
  • Individuals who had panorex exams annually or more frequently were 2.7 to 3.0 times more likely (depending on age) to have this brain tumor than people in the control group.

Dr. Claus says "the study presents an ideal opportunity in public health to increase awareness regarding the optimal use of dental x-rays, which unlike many risk factors is modifiable."

The authors note that while x-ray doses are lower today than in the past, some people may benefit from moderating this form of imaging.

Neurosurgeon Keith Black, M.D. tells dailyRx, "It is important for dentists, patients, and parents to understand that frequent dental X-rays are not without risks. Parents should discuss with their dentist the risks and benefits of routine dental X-rays," says Dr. Black who is Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical center.

"If essential for the evaluation of a particular dental problem then the X-ray may be justified. However, if the dental exam is normal and the X-ray is recommended as part of a routine screening, my personal view would be to carefully consider not having the X-ray exam," Dr. Black advises.

This research was published April 10, 2012 online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

No financial disclosure information was provided.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 9, 2012
Last Updated:
September 27, 2012