NYT report sparks more fear about going to the dentist

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Today’s front page of The New York Times featured an article on the alleged health dangers associated with cone-beam CT scanners, devices that are gaining widespread popularity among dentists and orthodontists for their 3-D imaging capabilities, efficiency and versatility. The Times claims, however, that these new scanning devices produce significantly more radiation than conventional methods, which is particularly dangerous to children since they are more vulnerable to radiation. Even though the risk from a single scan is relatively small, the article states that patients often receive more than one scan, thus increasing their risk with each additional exposure.

But Dr. Bradford Edgren of Greeley, Colo., says he feels “blindfolded if I don’t use it,” since the cone-beam CT scanners allow surgeons to work with greater precision and identify problems that might otherwise go unnoticed, such as hidden or impacted teeth.

Dr. James Mah, an associate clinical professor at the University of Southern California and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, plays down health concerns and compares the amount of radiation emitted by a cone-beam scan to a whole-body scan at the airport.

As The Times points out, few guidelines for imaging devices such as the cone-beam CT scanners exist, so “we don’t have much reliable data on what the appropriate dose should be,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “In this very long article, there was no discussion or mention of epidemiological data supporting the notion of the alleged increased health risk due to cone-beam CT scans. If there is, in fact, an increased risk of something that has already been around for so many years, it should be easy to conduct a retrospective or prospective study to confirm the association — you wouldn’t have to depend on alarmist suppositions to confirm it.”