A new report published in the journal Cancer suggests that frequent trips to the dentist's X-ray chair may lead to an increased risk for a common type of brain tumor. Researchers aren't ready to suggest that we should skip dental X-rays altogether, but are instead recommending that we get X-rayed less often. Here's what you need to know:
How was the study conducted?
A team from Yale School of Medicine took a look at 1,433 people diagnosed with intracranial meningioma, the most commonly diagnosed brain tumor in the United States. Researchers compared these patients to a test group of 1,350 people without tumors. Participants offered "self-reported lifetime dental X-ray histories," says Alice Park at TIME. Researchers then analyzed the different types of X-rays these two groups had undergone.
What did researchers discover?
Patients with tumors were more than twice as likely to have had a specific kind of X-ray — called a "bitewing" — one or more times a year. Bitewings, in which a patient bites down on X-ray film, take photos of the upper and lower back teeth. Another X-ray called a "panorex" — which takes a panoramic shot of the teeth, sinuses, and jaw — was also associated with an increased risk of meningioma, particularly if the patient started getting them regularly before age 10.
Are there other variables?
Yes. Researchers were unable to account for older participants who may have undergone stronger X-rays when they were younger. Present day X-ray levels are much lower, and safer.
So... X-rays are dangerous?
They're not the safest thing in the world, lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Claus tells the New York Daily News. But "we don't want people to think every X-ray is a loaded gun. They are important for dental health. But less exposure is better if possible." It's worth noting, says Park, that the American Dental Association recommends that healthy adults get X-rayed every 18 months to three years. And patients in this study said they were getting bitewing images far more often than recommended. Moderation is key.
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