Too much radiation can have health consequences-almost everyone has heard the warning. Yet most people assume that dangerous radiation exposure comes only in unique situations such as by working in factories where certain chemicals are used or following a nuclear plant meltdown. Those assumptions may be misguided, as a new alert in World Wire recently issued by a local doctor reminds community members that dangerous exposure can come in much more innocuous situations.
As the American Cancer Society explains, radiation is essentially the emission of energy from any source. There are many different kinds of radiation, some more harmful than others. Each exists along a spectrum of high-energy to low-energy. In addition, that radiation can be either ionizing or non-ionizing. In general, it is only ionizing radiation that can cause cancer, because it involves high-frequency radiation that is strong enough to damage DNA cells. These potentially dangerous forms of radiation include Gamma rays and x-rays.
Of course, x-rays are something that most residents experience from time to time, as they are used for diagnostic purposes in a variety of medical settings. On many occasions this x-ray radiation exposure is a necessary evil, as the benefits of the exposure in treating a certain condition outweigh the harm that may be caused by increased radiation exposure. Yet, some doctors are questioning that balancing test in certain situations-such as in the dentist’s chair. The new alert spread by the local doctor specifically warns that unnecessary dental x-rays may lead to a significant increase in cancer risk in patients.
Many dental facilities currently take x-rays of patient mouths as part of routine checkups or when registering new patients. These x-rays are unnecessary and potentially dangerous, particularly for children. Several reports have found that the thyroid gland is the most radiosensitive organ in children. This means that radiation exposure in the head and neck may pose particularly high risks for the unsuspecting youngsters. That harm is even more possible when new “cone –beam CT scanners” are used. These new medical devices offer detailed images for dentists, but they emit much higher levels of radiation, because they are continually emitting x-rays as they travel around the patient’s mouth. The doctor issuing the release summarized the situation by noting, “Not surprisingly, the incidence of thyroid cancer has escalated by 168% since 1975. The past and continuing practice of routine dental radiation, especially in children, is flagrant dental malpractice, if not criminal.”
In the legal context, it is often difficult (but not impossible) to have overexposure of radiation as the basis for a medical malpractice suit in the event that a patient develops cancer and believes it is linked to this sort of radiation exposure. That is because the negligence law which forms the basis of most medical malpractice lawsuits often requires strong evidence to prove the “cause” element-whereby the actions of a certain defendant were shown to cause the harm. Actions that increase the risk of harm to the patient may also be uses to prove the “causal” element of the suit. Yet, those increased risk cases are usually related to more direct events-like a delayed diagnosis that increased the risk of certain harm befalling a patient. In the end, it is likely important for all local residents to simply remain very aware of these radiation concerns and to work with medical professionals closely to minimize all exposure.
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