X-Rays for Children

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X-rays are valuable diagnostic tools, and your child's dentist may want to take X-rays to diagnose damage or disease to your child's teeth. Since X-rays expose your child to radiation, you may be reluctant to consent to X-ray imaging until you know more about the procedure and why it's being performed. Here are some details parents need to know about X-rays for children.

Reasons for X-Rays

In 2012, the American Dental Association (ADA) released new guidelines regarding X-rays, explains DentistryIQ. Dentists use these guidelines and their professional judgment to decide when children need X-rays.

Before dentists recommend X-rays, they review your child's health history and complete a clinical examination. There are lots of areas of your child's mouth that they can't see during an examiniation, like under the gums or inside the teeth.

Why would dentists need to see those hard-to-see areas? The ADA guidelines outline many possible clinical scenarios where dental X-rays may be necessary. X-rays help dentists:

  • See if familial dental anomalies are present
  • Find cavities between and on the teeth
  • Check on previous endodontic treatments
  • Determine the cause of oral swelling
  • Evaluate injuries to the teeth after trauma
  • Evaluate the health of the alveolar bone
  • Determine how many teeth are present in the mouth
  • Determine the impact of teeth that may be unerupted
  • Determine if unerupted teeth are missing
  • Find if teeth have bone loss or periodontal disease
  • Visualize teeth that are malposed or impacted

Types of X-Rays

Depending on the image the dentist is looking for, he or she may order different types of X-rays. Here are a few types:

  • Bitewing. Bitewing X-rays are used to look at the crowns of the upper and lower teeth in one area of the mouth, like the molars and premolars. Bitewing X-rays are used to look for cavities between the teeth that are hard to see otherwise. They can also be used to monitor previous fillings for wear, explains the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Periapical. Periapical X-rays are zoomed in on one or two teeth, and they display the whole tooth from the crown to the root. These X-rays can be used to look for problems with the tooth's root or the surrounding jaw bone as well as cavities.
  • Panoramic. Panoramic X-rays show your child's whole mouth in one X-ray, so all the teeth on the upper and lower jaws will be visible. Panoramic X-rays can be used to monitor your child's tooth development or to see if he or she needs orthodontics. These X-rays can also be used to see emerging teeth, impacted teeth, or tumors.
  • Occlusal. Occlusal X-rays show the entire arch of teeth in either the top or bottom jaw. These X-rays can be used to see the placement of all your child's teeth and to see how the teeth fit together when your child bites down.
  • Orthodontic. Also called cephalometric projections, these X-rays show the entire side of your child's head. Since the teeth are visible in the same image as the jaw and head, these images are useful for planning orthodontic treatments.
  • Cone Beam Computerized Tomography. These X-rays are different from the previously mentioned types in that they provide a 3-D view of your child's mouth. A 3-D view is useful when the dentist needs to gauge the space and development of your child's teeth, reports the Mayo Clinic.

X-Ray Safety

Since X-rays expose children to radiation, many parents are worried about the risk of conditions like cancer. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reassures parents that the amount of radiation that's received during a dental X-ray is extremely small. Today's X-ray equipment lets dentists focus the X-ray beam on the area of interest to reduce radiation exposure. Protective equipment like lead body aprons and shields also keep your child safe during their procedure.

Since children with a low risk of tooth decay don't need X-rays as often, practicing good oral hygiene at home can help minimize the need for X-rays. Twice a day, brush your child's teeth with a product like Colgate Kids Cavity Protection toothpaste, which fights cavities with clinically proven fluoride formula for kids.

X-rays for children have many important uses. If you're concerned about X-rays, consider your child's dentist's advice.