This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
In a study published in Acta Oncologica, scientists from Brighton and Sussex Medical School in Falmer, U.K. found that patients exposed to frequent dental x-rays were twice as likely to develop thyroid cancer as those who were not exposed.
The thyroid gland is easily harmed by radiation, and exposure to high quantities of ionizing radiation from x-rays is the only known risk factor for thyroid cancer. Researchers involved in the study note lower dose radiation from dental x-rays is frequently overlooked as a hazard to the gland, and dental patients often are not provided with a thyroid guard to protect them during x-rays. Earlier reports indicate dentists, dental assistants and x-ray technicians have a higher risk of thyroid cancer.
In the case control study, scientists looked at the frequency of dental x-rays received by 313 patients in Kuwait who had thyroid cancer, and compared it to the frequency of x-rays received by the same number of participants without the malignancy. Those who had dental x-rays had double the incidence of thyroid cancer.
Dental treatment is free of charge in Kuwait. Compared to other nations like the U.K., the rate of thyroid cancer is high. While the authors are urging caution because the data was based on the participants’ self-reporting, they assert the study provides good evidence to justify further research in settings where x-ray records can be accessed and radiation doses can be estimated.
Another study published in the April 15, 2013 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology found the risk of thyroid cancer increased by 13 percent for every 10 dental x-rays. Conversely, they found no association between thyroid cancer and diagnostic x-rays other than dental. The authors called for more detailed studies involving radiation exposure to ascertain risk.
Correlation Also Exists Between Dental X-Rays and Brain Tumors
The possible health risks of dental x-rays do not stop with thyroid cancer: it also includes brain tumors. In a 2012 study published in Cancer, 1,433 people diagnosed with meningioma, a type of brain tumor, were twice as likely to have had a bitewing x-ray as those without this illness. Additionally, those who had received a panorex dental scanning x-ray, which gives a two-dimensional view of the mouth, before the age of 10 were almost 5 times more likely to have a meningioma.
Even babies of pregnant women are affected by x-rays. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, pregnant women who received one dental x-ray had three times the likelihood of delivering a low-birth-weight baby.
How to Minimize Your Risk
Despite studies that raise concerns about the health risks of dental x-rays, the use of radiation in many dental offices is increasing.
Here are some protective measures to follow:
- Reduce the frequency of dental x-rays and avoid them unless they are absolutely necessary. Ask your dentist why you are getting an x-ray. If the reason is only to check your teeth, decline to have the procedure.
- Old x-ray imaging has higher doses of radiation. Select a dentist who uses digital x-rays, as this type has much lower radiation.
- Dental assistants routinely shield a patient’s chest and stomach with a radiation shield. Aside from this shield, request a thyroid guard that covers the part of the neck where the thyroid gland is located.
- Vitamin C can lower the damage of ionizing radiation in x-rays, so take high doses of this vitamin before and after these procedures.
- Dr. Oz, author and cardiothoracic surgeon, advises women to request a thyroid guard when getting mammograms as well.