It must have been another slow day this week when major networks ran the story of a study where people diagnosed with meningioma are more likely to report that they have received dental x-rays in the past.
Well, if patients where looking for another reason to stay away from the dentist, the media poured the fuel on.
Some facts: There are only about 6,500 people in the United States that are diagnosed with meningioma each year which is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor in the brain that is usually left untreated and if necessary, can be cured by surgery.
The authors of the study said, “We still don’t know what the risk is,” says Claus, “We started with the outcome, meningioma, and then looked at exposure. We still need to do a cohort study, but the expense and time [required] may not make that feasible.”
In other words, they did a study that did not determine any type of real risk of causing something that is not cancerous in very few people that is rarely treated and can be cured with a surgical procedure.
So what’s all the to do about? Much a do about nothing! But it sure got the media stirred up and some patients along with it.
Nevertheless, you have to be prepared to handle those “I don’t want x-rays” objections no matter where they come from.
So here’s a suggestion for patient communication when the patient brings it up:
“We are all exposed to all kinds of radiation every day: computers, TV, medical and dental x-rays, airplane flights, and the sun, etc. What we have known for years is that a typical set of dental x-rays contains about as much radiation as a cross-country airplane flight. We all want to minimize exposure to potentially harmful things so we do our best to only do x-rays when it is in the best interest of your total heath.”
What I find ironic is that a noncancerous tumor is getting more attention than oral cancer which nearly 40,000 people will be diagnosed with this year. Surely we can all be doing more to educate the public about a serous killer instead of being on the defensive about a non-definitive study. It all goes back to communication. Be pro-active. Stay ahead of the game. Educate your patients or you will be victim of another slow news day down the road.