Saturday, December 3, 2022

Batswana dental patients face cancer risks

Dental X-rays given to thousands of Batswana every year may dramatically increase the risk of thyroid cancer, scientists have warned.

Although the Department of Radiation Protection Director, Stephen Williams, has warned local dentists to ensure that the radiation emitted from their x-ray devices is kept reasonably low, Telegraph investigations have turned up information that even small doses of ionizing radiation from dental x-rays increase cancer risk, although by a very small amount.

In general, the risk of cancer from radiation exposure increases as the dose of radiation increases. Likewise, the lower the exposure is, the smaller the increase in risk. But there is no threshold below which ionizing radiation is thought to be totally safe.

Apparently aware of the very small but real risks posed even by “reasonably low” radiation, Stephen Williams, director of the Department of Radiation Protection told the media this week that, “if it were possible the country would do without this technology. Unless and until this technology has to be used dentists should not expose anyone to ionizing radiation.”

The Telegraph has also turned up a study conducted by scientists from Brighton, Cambridge and Kuwait last year, which found the chances of developing cancer rose with increasing numbers of dental X-rays.

The researchers said the idea that dental radiography is absolutely safe merits further examination due to their findings. The report states that the research findings are consistent with previous reports of increased risk of thyroid cancer in dentists, dental assistants and X-ray workers, suggesting that frequent low-dose exposures even in adults may be significant.

They argued that their study drew attention to concerns that dental X-rays should only be prescribed to cater for a specific clinical need, rather than as part of a routine check-up. The research was funded by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) and was administered by the Kuwait University Research Grant Administration.

In the meantime, the Department of Radiation Protection (DRP) has warned local dental practitioners to abide by radiation regulations or face legal action.

“Practicing Dental practitioners who are not adhering to the requirements of the 2006 Radiation Protection Act and Radiation Protection Regulations risk having their facilities shut down or face prosecution,” said Williams.

He said high incidences of diseases caused by emitted radiation from dental x-rays in other countries are worrisome.

“What is happening in other countries is a lesson to us and we will not wait for that to happen to us, reckless dentists will face punitive action,” he said. Williams said dentists have taken for granted the harm caused by nuclear technology like dental x-rays on patients. He said Ionized radiation is dangerous to the people, saying it can cause cancers, impotence in men and infertility in women.

“Compliance with the Radiation Act regulations in dental practice is not difficult nor is it particularly time consuming; actually it will help to ensure the safety of the dental team and members of the public,” said Williams.

The Telegraph was unable to establish the number of Batswana exposed to the risk before the law was put in place in 2006.

Williams urged dentists to ensure that the radiation emitted from these devices is kept reasonably low. It is cumulative once you get in contact with it and stays with you. Ionized radiation exposed to patients per annum should not exceed 1mSv per annum, anything beyond that the body will not tolerate.

“There is a lot of very useful guidance readily available from the Act and the radiation protection regulations. There is no excuse for this not being followed,” said Williams.

The warning was echoed by the DRP who work with the Radiation protection board to improve standards and assist practitioners in meeting their statutory responsibilities.

In an American television show earlier this year, Dr. Mehmet Oz called thyroid cancer “the fastest-growing cancer in women” and cited the harmful effects of radiation from sources like dental X-rays and mammograms.

Dr. Oz warned that people who have more than five X-rays a year have a fourfold greater risk of developing this cancer, and recommended the use of a lead thyroid shield when getting dental X-rays or mammograms. One of his guests on the program, Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, a gynecological cancer specialist, said she would not get dental X-rays if the only reason was to check her teeth.

Ionizing radiation increases the risk of certain types of cancer more than others. The thyroid gland and bone marrow are particularly sensitive to radiation. Leukemia, a type of cancer that arises in the bone marrow, is the most common radiation-induced cancer. Leukemia may appear as early as a few years after radiation exposure.

Other types of cancer can also result from radiation exposure, although they may take longer to develop (usually at least 10 to 15 years). Some of the other cancers most strongly linked to radiation exposure in studies include lung cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer, multiple myeloma, breast cancer and stomach cancer.


Read this week's paper