A common and potentially debilitating non-cancerous brain tumor has been linked to dental X-Rays.

Research from the Yale School of Public Health published online in Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society, says that people who received frequent dental X-Rays before doses were lowered, were more than twice as likely to develop the tumors known as meningioma.

Meningioma is listed as a rare disease by the National Institutes of Health, with estimates showing around 8 people in 100,000 thousand suffer from the problem, which occurs more frequently in women than men. The tumors develop in the membrane that surrounds the brain (meninges) and can go undetected for years. They have been reported to get larger than a baseball and while not cancerous, the invasion of the skull cavity can cause problems ranging from headaches and vision problems to loss of speech and motor control.

The research team looked at data from nearly 1,500 patients from Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, and Texas who had the disease. They then looked at a similar number of control subjects that had similar characteristics but no tumor. The average age for both groups was 57.

Those having had bitewing X-Rays exams on a yearly or more frequent basis were more than twice as likely to develop the tumor. They also found a link with panorex dental exam (which uses an X-ray outside the mouth to capture a single image of all of the teeth), which increased risks by three times. The risks also seemed to increase the younger the person started having the X-Rays. Those starting at the age of 10 had five times the risk.

The American Dental Association does advise dentists to think into the benefits of giving X-Rays to patients and weigh the risks. However, scandals in the past with copious unnecessary amalgam fillings being installed in people’s mouths, combined with the long term and very small tumor risks versus the need to see the teeth X-Rayed and run a profitable business, doesn’t inspire much confidence in the statement. To their credit though, they recommend adults should receive dental X-Rays only every 2-3 years.

Lead author Elizabeth Claus, a professor at Yale and a neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston concluded :

“The study highlights the need for increasing awareness regarding the optimal use of dental X-rays, which unlike many risk factors, is modifiable.”

Written by Rupert Shepherd