Concerns about exposing children and young people to radiation have led to recent changes in the way they are treated at the doctors and in hospitals. However, many dentists offices are still using outdated equipment that could possibly expose them to dangerous levels of radiation.
Not only do many dentists still use X-ray film that requires a higher amount of radiation, but many surgeries are starting to use another specialist piece of equipment that actually emits more radiation than standard technology. The cone beam CT scanner has been developed especially for the dental industry, to build up a 3D image of teeth, roots and even the skull.
There has been little research about the efficiency of these devices and some tests have even shown that its popularity has been fuelled by misinformation; many experts appear to have been paid to share their positive opinion of the device at seminars and in magazines.
Many orthodontists in the US use the cone scanner on all their patients, despite the fact that many dentists in Europe have already expressed their concern about its safety.
“All these different cone-beam CT scanners came out to a world that was unprepared,” said Keith Horner, a professor of oral radiology at the University of Manchester in Britain, who is coordinating a study of cone-beam scanners for the European Commission. “They are just pushed out there by manufacturers with the message that a 3-D image is always going to be better than a 2-D image, and that isn’t the case.”
Modern types of braces, which are more comfortable and more aesthetically pleasing than traditional styles, require 3D imaging for accurate fitting, leading to an increase in demand for these scanners as the braces also become more popular among young people. The amount of radiation people are exposed to from one scan is moderately small, but patients having braces fitted often need in excess of one scan and the danger augments with each contact.
“So let me ask a question to the mother of a prospective orthodontic patient,” said Dr. Stuart C. White, former chairman of oral radiology at the UCLA School of Dentistry “Would you like me to use a tool that is entirely safe — a camera — to record the position of your child’s teeth, or another method that may rarely cause cancer so that we can save time?”