Becoming More Like Medicine: Study Suggests Frequent Dental X-rays Increase Risk of Meningioma

photo by jparadisi

In recent years, I’ve had problems with dentists. Okay, it’s more like I have arguments with my dentist, who thinks I am the problem. We argue about the frequency of dental X-rays. I have maintained there is no reason to take bitewing X-rays every six months, and possibly ever, unless indicated by pain or symptoms.  Bolstering my side of the debate, I remind the dentist that I am a cancer survivor and yet, my doctor does not send me in for an X-ray when I develop a cough. In fact, I haven’t had a chest X-ray since my cancer diagnosis, and that was over a decade ago. Why do I need dental X-rays every six months?

With an exaggerated expression of patience, as if speaking to a difficult child, the dentist explains, “Dentistry is not like medicine. We do things differently.”

“Differently, as in you don’t use research to develop clinical standards?” I ask.

Next thing you know, I’m sitting through a very uncomfortable dental cleaning. What’s the name of that comedian who does the bit about dentists? He starts with,

“I go to the dentist, and he asks me if my gums bleed at home. I tell him no, but I don’t stick steak knives in my mouth at home either.”


I bring this up because the American Journal of Nursing published an article by Carol Potera, Older Dental X-rays Linked to Meningioma.

According to the article, adult patients diagnosed with meningiomas are nearly twice as likely to have had bitewing X-rays yearly, or even more frequently, than adults who are tumor free.”

It goes on to say that modern dental X-rays

“use much lower doses of radiation than those received by participants in this study,”

however, the study authors write:

“Efforts to moderate exposure to (ionizing radiation) to the head (are) likely to be of benefit to patients and health care providers alike.”

Finally, according to the article,

The American Dental Association, in its latest guidelines, asked dentists to weigh the risks and benefits associated with the use of dental X-rays at preset intervals.

Intuitively, I’ve known for a long time that frequent, routine dental X-rays are not a good idea. Now there is research to prove it.