Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Do pointless dental x-rays annoy you?

Dental x-rays aren't always necessary.Photo / Thinkstock
Dental x-rays aren't always necessary.Photo / Thinkstock

My Auckland dentist emailed through my dental records so a Hawke's Bay dentist could perform emergency root canal on a crowned tooth. My patient file was peppered with instances of my refusing x-rays. Evidently this occurred in July 2000, August 2001, September 2006, November 2010 and December 2011. Once it was recorded in capital letters and once they wrote "still didn't want x-rays"; the disapproval was thinly disguised. Reading between the lines, I was a difficult patient.

Each time I visited the dentist for a check-up, and usually before I'd even made it to the dentist's room, they'd casually ask me if I'd like x-rays. "No, thanks," I'd reply cheerfully as if they'd offered tea or coffee or some other kind of hospitality. Once my reply was countered with: "But we've got a brand new x-ray machine" - to which I responded: "Cool." Surely they didn't imagine I'd say: "Oh, well, in that case then, yes. A little dose of radiation does sound tempting. Count me in."

I must have given the impression of being some hippy-ish advocate of natural therapies, suspicious of modern medicine, but in fact I was just surprised that an x-ray had taken on the guise of a routine process rather than something to be harnessed as a tool for assessing problems. I happily had an x-ray in 2009 when I was experiencing some serious teeth problems. But when exactly did x-rays become gratuitous, something to be performed on a whim?

A US doctor interviewed for Yearly dental X-rays raise brain tumor risk, study finds echoed my general attitude: "For folks experiencing severe tooth pain or other dental symptoms, an X-ray's benefits may outweigh the risks, he said. If a person is not having symptoms, he doesn't think the X-rays are necessary."

Last month I took my nine-year-old for a routine check-up with her paediatric dentist and I requested that no x-rays be taken this visit. To my surprise I was asked to sign a consent form. That's right. X-rays have become so normalised that I had to consent to her not having any. I'd have thought it should be the other way around. Lucky I mentioned it up front.

The Washington Post reported on a study that found "people with meningioma [a common form of brain tumour] were more than twice as likely as people without the brain tumor to have had a bitewing X-ray sometime in their life. For a bitewing X-ray, the patient holds the film in place by biting down on a tab." The article went on to say that the study was based on x-rays performed in the 1960s which "delivered higher doses of radiation than today's do" and also noted that the American Dental Association recommends dental x-rays are limited to about every one to two years for children and two to three years for adults.

The significance of the study was downplayed locally too. "[E]xperts note that advances in x-ray equipment, regulations and the low actual incidence of the disease mean that people should not be worried about the health risks," says the Wellington-based Science Media Centre.

Even so, I'll be proceeding with my usual caution by authorising dental x-rays only if indicated. And if my dentist plans to offer me an optional extra unconnected with clear and present dental concerns it had better be in the form of a decaf skinny mocha.

What are your thoughts on dental x-rays? Does your dentist offer them even if there's no pressing issue? Do you have them willy-nilly or do you try to adopt a more measured approach?

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 28 May 2017 21:14:21 Processing Time: 497ms