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Radiation risks at the dentist’s office

The people who are worried (and with some good reason) about the cumulative radiation dangers from the new airport scanners may want to expand that concern to the dentist’s office.

For, as the New York Times points out in a troubling article published online Monday, we may be getting unsafe levels of radiation during our dental check-ups and treatments.

The Times investigation also discovered that the reason for those unsafe levels has a lot to do with questionable marketing techniques and with all-too-cozy financial relationships between the manufacturers of radiation technology and certain members of the dentistry profession.

Write reporters Walt Bogdanich and Jo Craven McGinty:

Not only do most dentists continue to use outmoded X-ray film requiring higher amounts of radiation, but orthodontists and other specialists are embracing a new scanning device that emits significantly more radiation than conventional methods, an examination by The New York Times has found.
Designed for dental offices, the device, called a cone-beam CT scanner, provides brilliant 3-D images of teeth, roots, jaw and even skull. This technology, its promoters say, is a safe way for orthodontists and oral surgeons to work with more precision and to identify problems that otherwise might go unnoticed.
But there is little independent research to validate these claims. Instead, the cone beam’s popularity has been fueled in part by misinformation about its safety and efficacy, some of it coming from dentists paid or sponsored by manufacturers to give speeches, seminars and continuing education classes, as well as by industry-sponsored magazines and conferences, according to records and dozens of interviews with dentists and researchers.
Last month, The Journal of the American Dental Association allowed one of the leading cone-beam manufacturers, Imaging Sciences International, to underwrite an issue devoted entirely to cone-beam technology. That magazine, which the association sent to 150,000 dentists, included a favorable article by an author who has equated a cone-beam CT with an airport scan. In fact, a cone beam can produce hundreds of times more radiation, experts say.

This is an especially important article for parents to read. As the Times also points out, many doctors are now campaigning to protect children and adolescents especially, but also adults, from unnecessary diagnostic radiation. There’s a growing recognition that the cumulative effect of such radiation over a lifetime poses a serious cancer risk and health problem.

You can read the Times article here. The Times also provides a link (here) to full versions of the documents and studies it cites in the article.

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