A major study looking into how financial arrangements with dentists affect what goes on in the dentist’s chair has found a marked increase in the number of X-rays when dentists receive payment for them. The researchers detected the biggest increase in the rates of X-rays when patients were also exempt from charges. While X-rays are a useful diagnostic tool to allow dentists to examine bones and dental tissues, they also expose patients to potentially harmful radiation. A known carcinogen, X-rays can cause damage to DNA and inhibit the mechanisms cells use to repair themselves. Dental X-rays deliver a very small dose of radiation, but there are no safe levels – every last bit of radiation is potentially harmful. Each dentist has to weigh up the risks versus the benefits before they take the decision to X-ray and our findings indicate that this calculation is being distorted by financial incentives.
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