As a parent, exposing your toddler or child to radiation from an X-ray is never your first choice. But X-rays can be valuable diagnostic tools, and your child's dentist might recommend that your child get an X-ray done to diagnose any dental damage. Figuring out if this is the right thing to do can be tricky. That's why we're here to tell you more about the X-ray procedure and important pediatric dental X-ray guidelines so you can make an informed decision about your child's teeth.
X-Rays for Children
There are many areas in your child's mouth that the dentist can't see during a regular examination, like under the gums or inside the teeth. That's when X-rays can be quite useful. Dentists won't typically recommend an X-ray unless they've done a full clinical examination and still have some unanswered questions about your child's teeth or oral health.
Here are some cases where a dentist might recommend an X-ray:
- To figure out if there's room in your child's mouth for all incoming teeth.
- To determine if your child is losing primary teeth quickly enough to make room for all permanent teeth.
- To check for preliminary development of wisdom teeth or any teeth unable to emerge from the gums (known as impacted).
- To check for early signs of tooth decay.
- To look for any developmental abnormalities like cysts or tumors.
There are several types of X-rays, each one serving a unique purpose. Depending on what dentists are trying to find out, they might order any of these types of X-rays:
A bitewing X-ray studies the crowns of the upper and lower teeth in one area of the mouth, for instance, the molars and premolars. It can be used to looking at cavities or decay between teeth and monitoring previous fillings' wear or breakdown.
Focusing on just one or two teeth, periapical X-rays show the entirety of your child's tooth, from crown to root.
By tracking the placement and development of the entire arch of teeth in either the top or bottom jaw, occlusal X-rays can be used to see how the teeth fit together when your child bites down.
A panoramic X-ray will show your child's whole mouth in one X-ray – all the teeth in both the upper and lower jaws. These X-rays can be used to see emerging teeth, impacted teeth, or tumors.
A cephalometric X-ray shows both your child's teeth and the jaw and head by taking an image of the entire side of your child's head. It can help in planning orthodontic treatments.
Cone Beam Computerized Tomography
Unlike the other types of X-rays mentioned, cone beam computerized tomography provides a 3D view of your child's mouth.
Now you might know more about when X-rays are needed for your child but do you still have questions about their safety? According to Mouth Healthy by the American Dental Association, dental X-rays are safe. They will expose your child to low radiation levels, but the possibility of experiencing any harmful effects is also low. Additionally, most dental professionals follow the new pediatric X-ray guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration. These guidelines recommend that "medical X-ray imaging exams be optimized to use the lowest radiation dose needed."
That said, you can ask for a leaded apron or a leaded thyroid collar for your child so that you can shield their abdomen and thyroid. And don't forget that children with a low risk of tooth decay don't need X-rays as often. That's why practicing good oral hygiene is critical. Encourage your child to brush twice a day with a toothpaste that fights cavities.
As a parent, it's natural to have safety concerns about X-rays, but understanding the benefits and risks of dental X-rays and talking to your child's dentist can help you figure out the best thing for your child.