Story Exposes Risky Radiation Levels at the Dentist

An article in The New York Times yesterday exposed a scary phenomenon taking place at the dentist office — unregulated and scientifically misunderstood doses of radiation being delivered to patients through routine scans. Kids are particularly at risk a because they are more sensitive to radiation.

Most dentists continue to use clunky old school X-ray machines that use slow “D-speed film” requiring higher doses of radiation (the Times reports 60 percent more radiation than higher speed films). Even though the F.D.A. has been recommending switching to higher speed films or using digital X-rays, the majority of dentists offices stick to the old method.

But the article actually focuses its reporting on a newer, more advanced technology that is rising in popularity, even though the radiation doses to our kids could be off the charts.

The cone-beam CT scanner, which produces 3-D images, has become a popular tool for dentists of all specialities, because it’s fast and gives a brilliant, detailed, comprehensive look inside the mouth.

It also can deliver anywhere from 4 to 67 times as much radiation as a conventional scan, a radiation researcher told the Times. His findings were published last year in the British Journal of Radiology.

The machines are highly profitable for both manufacturers and dentists. And from the Times report, there is a ring of misinformation around their sale and promotion.

For example, the Journal of the American Dental Association, had an entire issue devoted to the cone-beam technology, in which the health risks and radiation exposure were minimized. The journal issue was underwritten by Imaging Sciences International — a cone-beam manufacturer.

The benefits of the technology aren’t clear, say researchers. And why up the risk, especially for kids, who may be exposed repeatedly, especially if they routinely see a specialist.

Have you or your child been to the dentist lately — did you have a traditional scan or get 3-D images? If so, did the doctor talk about risks and radiation?

Image: flickr/emrank

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