Do Dental X-Rays Cause Cancer?

Do these cause cancer?

There have been many questions regarding a recent study published in the journal Cancer linking dental x-rays and meningioma.   This study was quickly spread to the media and subsequently sensationalized.  Because nobody wants brain cancer and many visit the dentist regularly, people began to get nervous.  Hopefully, this will answer some questions and put your mind at ease.

First of all, what is meningioma?  This is a tumor of the membranes covering the entire central nervous system, which includes the brain.  This is the most common brain tumor in humans.  It is slow growing and is usually benign.  Typically these tumors are removed surgically.  Do you feel better yet?

Radiation is considered a possible cause, as there is a higher rate of meningioma in Hiroshima.  So how much radiation puts someone at risk?  The vast majority of the world hasn’t experienced a nuclear disaster, so what is causing these tumors for the rest of us?  These questions may have led researchers to consider dental x-rays as a possible cause.  The results of the study indicate that the meningioma patients, compared to the controls recall having a bitewing x-ray and a panorex on a yearly basis starting younger than the age of 10.  There’s your headline – dental x-rays cause cancer!  Not exactly.  A cause and effect relationship was not proven, there was only an association.  The next problem I have with this study is that the patients had to recall whether they had x-rays, what types and how often.  Some patients were in their late 70s and the dental records were not consulted.  Do you remember those details?  I certainly don’t.   Something that should make you feel better is that modern dental x-rays have much lower radiation than in the past.  The advent of higher speed film requires much less exposure with the same diagnostic quality.  Digital x-rays can reduce the radiation by as much as 80%.  So even if there was an association previously, it may not be the same now.

So talk to your dentist if you have concerns.  Not everyone needs x-rays every 6 months.  Your frequency of x-rays should be based on your individual condition.  If you do not have a history of decay or gum disease, you may be able to cut down.  But, you need to understand that dental x-rays provide invaluable information that your dentist cannot see in a routine dental exam and that it is extremely irresponsible to deny x-rays entirely.  Please contact me with any questions.


Our office participates in Relay for Life to raise money for the American Cancer society.  Please consider donating to this great organization.


Here are some links to my references if you want more information:





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