Answer to Question #3992 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Dental

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

I am 19 years old and I have been going to the dentist twice a year since I was three years old. Each time, and sometimes more often, I've been given dental x rays of all my teeth. Here recently, I was diagnosed with a pituitary microadenoma. I heard from someone that radiation from dental x rays could cause tumors. Is there any way possible that all the years of x rays could have caused this tumor to develop in my head?

A

Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide an absolute answer to your question. We know that large doses of x rays can cause tumors. However, the doses you received from dental x rays were very small, in the range in which no one is sure of the effect, if any. Old data show a relationship between diagnostic x rays and cancer. However, exposures in the early days were much greater and equipment much cruder than today. We have no evidence of such an effect from recent exposures. We do have some evidence that very small doses may have beneficial effects.

Current recommendations for frequency of repeat dental x rays suggest that only rarely are exposures clinically necessary at the frequent intervals you report. Guidelines are published in Report No. 145 from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, "Radiation Protection in Dentistry." You may wish to discuss this issue with your dentist.

S. Julian Gibbs, DDS, PhD

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 26 August 2014. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.