How often does your dentist X-ray your teeth? My girls and I don't go to the same dentist — I go to a family dentist and they go to a pediatric specialist. Still, we all get yearly X-rays that I always just assumed were par for the course. Until now.
A recent issue of Consumer Reports questions the need for yearly X-rays, particularly for children. It seems that many dentists have been re-evaluating the need for yearly X-rays in light of a study that was released in April that found that frequent dental X-rays, particularly in childhood, may be linked to an increased risk of brain tumors, or meningiomas, in adulthood.
The study, published in the April issue of Cancer found that having yearly or more frequent bitewing X-rays, images that show the crowns of upper and lower teeth, raised the risk for meningiomas 1.4 to 1.9 times, A panoramic X-ray — the kind that sweeps around the head to get a view of all the teeth and is often used to assess the need for braces — nearly quintupled the risk of developing a meningioma if performed before a child's 10th birthday. This is the X-ray that my eldest daughter would have had at 8-years-old if the machine hadn't been down. All the while the dentist and her assistant were giving me the standard spiel about the safety of X-rays and the need to use them to properly assess dental health. I don't ever remember them saying anything about exposing my daughter to five times the risk for developing a brain tumor!
The American Dental Association recommends that dentists use X-rays "only when necessary for diagnosis and treatment." And as the article in Consumer Reports points out, that doesn't mean once a year. The ADA currently recommends X-rays every one or two years for healthy children and every two or three years for healthy adults.
If your dentist recommends X-rays at your next visit, ask questions about why and if they are really necessary, particularly if you are discussing your child's dental needs. If they insist on X-rays, it may be time to find a new dentist.