Friday, July 16, 2010

Are Dental X-rays Dangerous?

Should you get x-rays at the dentist?  Dentists will tell you that x-rays are necessary for diagnosing cavities at an early stage, before a tooth is severely injured.  All x-rays have risk; they damage our genetic material, the DNA. 
Do dental X-rays cause thyroid problems?  A recent report in Acta Oncologica found a direct correlation with the number of dental x-rays and thyroid cancer.  In other words, the patients who received more dental X-rays were found to have an increased rate of thyroid cancer.
Patients who received four dental X-rays had more than double the risk of developing thyroid cancer as compared to those who were not irradiated.  As compared to those not exposed to X-rays, subjects given five to nine X-rays had a risk of developing thyroid cancer that was more than four times normal.  Finally, those with ten or more X-rays had a five-fold risk as compared to someone who had not received an X-ray. 
The thyroid gland sits in the lower part of the neck.  It is very sensitive to radiation.  Over the last 30 years, thyroid cancer as well as other thyroid disorders, has been increasing in the U.S. at epidemic rates. 
So, should you have dental X-rays or should your children have dental X-rays?  There is not a perfect answer here.  Dentists rely on X-rays to identify cavities at an early stage.  Many cavities are not able to be diagnosed visually.  I have spoken to many dentists about this conundrum and they say that X-rays are a necessary and helpful tool in dentistry. 
One solution to the problem is to have your dentist use the digital X-rays.   Digital X-rays provide much less radiation as compared to conventional radiology equipment.  Furthermore, your dentist should provide you with a lead shield in order to protect the thyroid gland.  I don’t believe any dental X-rays should be given unless the thyroid gland is properly protected.  If your dentist does not provide this protection to you (and, he/she should provide it without asking), it is time to find a new one.
I do believe periodic dental X-rays are necessary for dentists to accurately and quickly make a diagnosis about the health of the teeth.   However, the best way to prevent dental disease is to eat a healthy diet free of refined foods and refined sugar.  (Acta Onc.  May 2010.  Vol. 49, No. 4. P. 447-53)


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