Unsettling Association: Dental X rays linked to low-birth-weight babies

9:02am, April 29, 2004

Getting dental X rays while pregnant might increase a woman's risk of giving birth to a low-birth-weight baby, a new study suggests.

Physicians try to minimize diagnostic X rays for pregnant women because radiation is most damaging to fetal and other rapidly dividing cells. When X rays in areas away from the abdomen are necessary during pregnancy, doctors shield the womb with a lead apron. Nevertheless, medical X rays have been linked to low-birth-weight babies.

Dental X rays had never been correlated with low birth weight. Previous research, however, pointed to the neck's thyroid gland as an unintended target of dental X rays. Thyroid hormone regulates metabolism, growth, and other functions, and its disruption during pregnancy could affect the development of the fetus, one hypothesis holds.

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