Do Dental X-Rays Put You at Risk for Cancer?

A study published in Cancer reveals evidence that frequent exposure to x-rays can double your risk of developing a certain kind of brain tumor. It's important to note that the risk is very low and that some medical experts question the studies' methodology.

Researchers studied more than 1,400 people who were diagnosed with meningioma, a type of brain cancer that's strongly linked to ionizing radiation, and formulated a control group of people without meningioma. The scientists found that the meningioma patients were at least twice as likely to have had bitewing x-rays annually or more.

The study also explored the risk variances of different age groups, and discovered that subjects who were exposed to frequent x-rays before the age of 10 had a markedly higher risk of meningioma. Because the study compiled decades of medical histories, many of the subjects were exposed to x-rays that had higher levels of radiation than is commonly used. Modern technology advancements have reduced the exposure by 60 percent or more, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

In response to the study, the ADA published a statement questioning some of the study's methodologies, pointing out: "a number of irreconcilable data collection and consistency problems highlight serious flaws in the study and render the conclusions invalid." The ADA statement points out the many benefits of using x-rays and recommends that dentists keep the big picture in mind when making recommendations for patients.

The ADA does not make a specific recommendation on how often x-rays should be taken, since age, health, and disease risk all factor in to this individual determination. There are two things you can do to reduce your exposure to x-rays:

  1. Practice good dental habits at home in order to keep your teeth as healthy as possible.
  2. If you switch dentists or visit a specialist, request copies of your x-rays so they do not need to be taken more often than necessary.


Sources: "Experts Question X-Ray Study." American Dental Association. Web. April 13, 2012. "X-rays." American Dental Association. Web. 2012.

Claus, EB, et al. "Dental X-rays and the risk of meningioma." Cancer. April 10, 2012. Dental X-Rays May Raise Risk of Brain Tumor" Perelman School of Medicine. University of Pennsylvania. April 10, 2012.