Is there a connection between dental X-rays and brain tumors?

Image: Flickr/radiant guy

The Boston Globe featured a study last week associating frequent dental X-rays with benign brain tumors called meningiomas. Despite the findings, says Man Wai Ng, DDS, MPH, Boston Children’s chief of Dentistry, you should still focus more on your child’s teeth than his or her brain when they’re in the dentist’s chair.

That’s because it’s unlikely that most children will have dental X-rays frequently enough to raise their tumor risk. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the American Dental Association and the Food and Drug Administration all offer recommendations and guidelines for dental X-rays in children, with a big focus on minimizing X-ray exposure.

Man Wai Ng, DDS, MPH

The AAPD guidelines—used by the dentists in the Dentistry Department at Boston Children’s Hospital—take a risk-based approach to X-rays, highlighting the need to balance a child’s cavity or periodontal disease risk with the risk of X-ray exposure when deciding whether or not to X-ray.

“When we do take an X-ray, we take every precaution to minimize radiation exposure, including use of lead thyroid collars and aprons,” says Ng. “We have also gone to digital radiography, which reduces radiation significantly.

“Finally,” she adds, “we encourage parents and patients to participate in the care of their children, and to ask why dental X-rays are recommended.”

While the AAPD guidelines help steer radiation use in the dental clinic, they don’t apply to other areas of the body. For non-dental X-rays, Boston Children’s adheres to the Image Gently protocol, which tailors the dose of radiation to the individual child to ensure that he or she is getting the minimum amount of radiation needed to get a good diagnostic image.