Friday, May 4, 2012

Dentals X-Rays: Helpful or Harmful? Or Both?

I just got back from the dentist.  Good report, no cavitites.  Yay.  But I thought I'd tell you about an intersting conversation that occured between me and my dentist.  First of all, I love my dentist.  He is a family friend and I drive 30 minutes just to go to his office.  That said, our conversation this morning piqued my curiosity about whether or not he was doing everything he could to protect my health.  This is how it went down:

After my teeth were cleaned, the dental hygenist draped a protective radiation shield over me.  We were deep in conversation, and I hardly realized what was going on.  After looking down at the shield, I looked at her and asked, "Are you taking X-Rays?"

Yes, she was.

"Well, I usually get them every other time (which would be once a year, instead of twice).  Can you tell me when I last had them?"

It had only been 6 months, so I declined to have more. It was fine with her, no questions asked. We don't have dental insurance, so I'm sure she thought I just didn't want to pay the money for them.  Which was part of the reason. 

The dentist walked in.  The dental hygenist informed him that I hadn't had any x-rays done.

"This isn't about that news report about x-rays, is it?"

"What report? I didn't see anything like that on the news."  (My T.V.'s been broken for about a week and a half.  No T.V. for me)

He continued, "That report that said brain tumors were caused by dental x-rays. That's not what this is about, right?"

He was more assertive than normal, maybe a bit defensive even? I told him "no", because I hadn't seen the report and didn't know anything about it, but knew that I would reserach it when I went home ;)  I thought that the report probably had something to do with a study regarding radiation exposure, which was, in fact, the other part of why I didn't want x-rays every six months.  I had done enough research on radiation to know that if I could minimize my exposure, it would probably be worth it.  I was erring on the side of caution, but I might not have erred enough, it turns out.

The study was produced to determine whether meningiomas, or usually benign brain tumors that affect the lining of the brain, are linked to dental x-rays, particularly bitewing x-rays, which take pictures of the back teeth.  As I was reading the study that was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Claus, a neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a professor of epidemiology at Yale University School of Medicine, a few statements stood out:

The findings suggest that patients should talk to their dentists about the possible dangers of X-rays and be aware of national recommendations regarding their use, she said.

"I do not get the feeling that people are aware of those guidelines," she said. "Many people are having them every six months or every year when the American Dental Association is saying once every two to three years." (That's the recommendation for the patient who's never had a cavity or only a small number of fillings and isn't at increased risk for a cavity.)

Adult patients and parents of child patients should talk to their dentists about X-rays, Germano said. "It's always important to discuss what the X-ray is for and what the advantage is. It's not a good idea to assume that X-rays are a benign procedure," she said.

Messina agreed. "It's always good for patients to talk to their dentists about why they're getting X-rays and what is being done to shield the patient."

WOW.  Who knew?  While I'm really careful about using a radiation shield for my body, and requesting a neck shield to protect my thyroid from radiation exposure, I never thought about protecting my head! (If there's no neck shield available, just pull the body shield up over your neck.  I do the same for my children.) The thing that blows my mind is that my dentist has never told me that the ADA only recommends x-rays every two to three years for someone like me.  I'm sure in his mind he is giving a more thorough exam by taking x-rays every six months. My hope is that dentists will continually stay informed with new research so they can make sound decisions regarding their patients, as each patient is unique.  And maybe they'll come out with radiation shields for our heads! We'd look silly, but it may be worth it ;)
You can read the full report here.

Jenny :)


Anna M said...

That's tough, because while every few years for an xray sounds OK, sometimes they find things before they get worse.

My child had a visit and they saw nothing wrong. Four months later, his tooth was literally rotting before our eyes. It was a fluke tooth, but the pain and trouble it took to fix it was intense. Two years is a very long time for a small internal cavity that a dentist cannot see to grow and abscess.

I imagine most dentists aren't looking for more money, but taking the time you are in their chair to find and fix any problems. If you were to find that you DID have a small cavity and it got out of hand, the dentist is often held responsible.

I don't want brain tumors. Of course not. But we also live in a time when we actually want all of our teeth, too.

Jenny said...

Yeah - Two to three years is a while. I don't know that I feel comfortable waiting that long in between x-rays, but I wish I could protect myself from any possible damage with some sort of shield. I'm actually surprised that the ADA says every 2-3 yrs. for certain people. But I also think it's important for our dentists to inform us fully.

And yes, I want all my teeth too :) Hope your son's tooth is all fixed up!

Elizabeth said...

Jenny, I was so happy for a new blog post that I almost didn't mind that it wasn't about food. Hannah and Lincoln's dentist doesn't take X-rays for kids unless specifically requested which I think is great. That being said, I didn't know there were additional guards I could be requesting!