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June 1, 2013

Dental X-rays remain a valuable tool in detecting oral health problems

A study published in Cancer, the peer-viewed journal of the American Cancer Society, found that people diagnosed with meningioma, a generally non-cancerous tumor, are more likely to report that they’ve received certain types of dental X-rays in the past.

There are several important things to understand about this study:

This finding doesn’t mean that dental X-rays cause these tumors; much more research is needed.

The results rely on the individuals’ memories of having dental X-rays taken years earlier. 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.”

The study acknowledges that some of the subjects received dental X-rays decades ago when radiation exposure was greater. Radiation doses were higher in the past due to the use of old X-ray technology and slower speed film.

The American Dental Association’s long-standing position is that dentists should order dental X-rays for patients only when necessary for diagnosis and treatment. Since 1989, the ADA has published recommendations to help dentists ensure that radiation exposure is as low as reasonably achievable. As precautions against radiation, ADA encourages the use of abdominal shielding (e.g., protective aprons) and thyroid collars on all patients. In addition, the ADA recommends that dentists use E or F speed film, the two fastest film speeds available, or a digital X -ray.

Dental X-rays are a valuable part of detecting oral health problems at an early stage. Many oral diseases can’t be detected with a physical examination alone. Dental X-rays help provide information about a patient’s oral health such as early-stage cavities, gum diseases, infections and some types of tumors. How often dental X-rays should be taken depends on the patient’s oral health condition, age, risk for disease and any signs and symptoms of oral disease that the patient might be experiencing. If you have concerns the ADA encourages you to talk to your dentist, but eliminating X-rays altogether could be detrimental to your oral health.