By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Advancements in medical technology help keep us healthy and even save thousands of lives every year. But there are concerns that some of the newest equipment in dental offices could actually be doing us harm.

It is called Cone Beam Computer Tomography and it generates detailed 3-dimensional images of the patient’s teeth, jaw and even their skull. The images make it easier for dentists to diagnose and treat everything from implants to extractions. “It allows the surgery to be less invasive and it minimizes the trauma to the patient,” explained Dr. John Fisher who is the President of The Massachusetts Dental Association.

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WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

That may be true, but Boston dentist Nicholas Dello Russo is concerned about the use of these machines because they rotate around the patient’s entire head. “That x-ray is going through the patient’s brain, it’s going through the patient’s eye, the cornea,” he said. Traditional x-rays are generally much more concentrated to the specific tooth or jaw area where the problem exists. Dello Russo says the cone beam technology also uses more radiation that traditional methods. “Radiation is cumulative throughout a patient’s life,” Dello Russo explained. “The more radiation you’re exposed to, the higher risk that you are going to develop cancer,” he said.

That risk is even greater for children. But some orthodontists are now using the technology for braces. “It’s not unusual for an orthodontist to take three or more scans over the course of treatment,” Dello Russo said.

According to Dr. Fisher, current science shows the use of cone beam technology is safe for children, “I think it has been overdramatized,” he said. “It’s so relative. We are exposed to a certain amount of radiation every day just walking outside,” he added.

Fisher explained that dentists are careful not to expose children or adults unnecessarily. But with thousands of these expensive machines being sold to dentist across the country, Dr. Dello Russo wonders. “When you have a machine like that sitting in your office, you are going to find a use for it,” he said. Even Dr. Fisher said that could happen. “There are probably dentists out there…. They’re doing whatever for the money and that’s all they’re interested in,” he said.

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The other tricky part is that different machines use different levels of radiation. Some use slightly more than an airport scanner, others use a lot more. There is no way for a patient to know.

Paul Loverdale of Sandwich believes his invention eliminates that unknown. It is a simple card that measures the amount of radiation a patient is exposed to when they receive a scan. His card has been approved by the FDA and is now being tested in hospitals. “It’s not just piece of mind for the patient. It’s piece of mind for the radiologist and the dentist,” he said.

Dello Russo believes Loverdale’s invention is a good idea, but he says it’s not a solution. He is worried that when used in a dentist office, there are no radiologists overseeing the use of the machines. No one is keeping track of how many scans a patient is getting and what their cumulative exposure may be. “It’s almost like we’re embarking on a huge experiment. We are irradiating our entire population and no one knows what the consequences will be.

More and more patients are saying no to x-rays of all kinds. If you don’t want to take on that risk, talk to your dentist or orthodontist. Find out what kind of imaging equipment they use and if you really need that scan.

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