What Dental X-rays Does My Child Need? Are They Safe?

girl with dentist and x-raysDental x-rays are necessary for determining the present status of a patient’s oral health, along with identifying a patient-specific treatment plan. A request for x-rays can depend on several different factors, including how much dental work has been previously done, the current condition of that dental work, dental hygiene, a patient’s age, a patient’s risk for disease, and any signs or symptoms of dental decay or gum disease. For example, children may need x-rays more often than adults, because their teeth and jaws are continually developing and are more likely to be affected by tooth decay. Each intraoral x-ray shows several teeth, from the upper surface to the supporting bone. Dentists can order multiple images in order to learn more about a specific area of concern.

Dental x-rays are safe. However, they do require extremely low levels of radiation exposure, which makes the risk of potentially harmful effects very minimal. In other words, any level of radiation poses a potential risk to patients. For this reason, team members want to minimize a patient’s exposure as much as possible.

In most dental offices, every precaution is taken to ensure radiation exposure is As Low As Reasonably Achievable, also known as following the ALARA principle. Thanks to advanced dental technology, dental teams operate dental x-ray tools and utilize techniques designed to limit your body’s exposure to radiation. A leaded apron minimizes radiation exposure to your child’s abdomen, while a leaded thyroid collar protects the thyroid from radiation.

Here are 5 different types of dental x-rays your child may need, depending on his or her oral health:

  • Bitewing X-rays (also called cavity-detecting x-rays): These x-rays are used to view the areas between teeth that cannot be easily seen. These X-rays are needed only after the teeth in the back of the mouth are touching each other, as they show where cavities may be forming. In some children, this doesn’t happen until the first permanent molar (also called the 6-year molar) has erupted.
  • Periapical X-rays: These x-rays are used to view the entire crowns and roots of one, two or three teeth that sit next to each other. They also show the supporting bone structure of the teeth, allowing the dentist see your child’s permanent teeth developing below the baby teeth. They are also used to look for abscesses and gum disease.
  • Panoramic X-rays: These x-rays are used to obtain a comprehensive view of all of the teeth on one film, displaying the upper and lower jaws, the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) and the sinuses above the upper teeth. They are often used if a child has hurt his or her face, has orthodontic problems, or is mentally or physically disabled. Panoramic X-rays, unlike other types, do not require a film to be put in the child’s mouth. This is helpful for children who gag easily or have small mouths. This X-ray must be exposed for 12-18 seconds, and the patient must be able to sit or stand still for that whole time.
  • Occlusal X-rays: These are used to view most of the upper or lower teeth on one film. This is useful when the dentist does not have a panoramic X-ray machine or when the child has difficulty in taking bitewing or periapical X-rays.
  • Orthodontic X-rays (also called cephalometric or lateral skull): This type of X-ray shows the head from a side view. It is used to evaluate growth of the jaws and the relationship of bones in the skull. It also helps an orthodontist make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding dental x-rays, please do not hesitate to contact us!

About the Author

I am a family dentist who treats children as well as adults. Making smiles people love, extreme makeovers and complex dental reconstruction is our niche including implants, TMJ, orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. As a participant in the blog, I will be offering dental perspectives on pediatric safety and health care options on a regular basis. I can be reached at www.suwaneedental.com. Blessings to all! Dr Williams is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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