X-Rays at the Dentist
Sometimes, a pediatric dentist may wish to take an x-ray during an office visit. It is important to understand the purpose of this test, what information it can provide, and how often it is needed. X-rays are a critical tool for a pediatric dentist to assess and monitor a child's oral health and minimize the risk of tooth decay.
What Are X-Rays?
X-rays are an important diagnostic tool to help a pediatric dentist visualize problems with the teeth that cannot be seen in a traditional examination. Also called dental radiographs, x-rays can reveal hidden tooth decay, which is why it is important to obtain regular and frequent dental x-rays for growing children. Commonly used pediatric dental x-rays include bite-wing or periapical studies to see the back teeth, occlusional x-rays to visualize the top or bottom jaws, panoramic x-rays which show the entire mouth, or extraoral x-rays, which allow the dentist to see the entire mouth and jaw from outside the mouth.
How Often Does a Child Need X-Rays?
While each child's mouth is different (and therefore necessitates different amounts of imaging), dental x-rays are particularly important for growing children. Rapid changes in their teeth and mouths present a special need to monitor oral development closely in children. For children who have a high risk of tooth decay, the American Academy of Dental Pediatrics recommends that x-rays be taken every six months. For children at low risk for cavities, annual imaging may be sufficient.
There is very little risk associated with this schedule of x-rays with regards to radiation exposure. Modern high-speed technologies paired with careful placement of lead shields and filters ensure that children's exposure to radiation during dental x-rays is extremely negligible. In fact, a flight in an airplane across the country can deliver more radiation than a dental x-ray.
Pediatric dentists are extensively trained in minimizing any risks associated with taking x-rays of babies, children, and teens. While it is common for children to receive x-rays every six months to a year, dentists are still careful to order these studies only when needed. Regular x-ray studies present far less risk than undiagnosed tooth decay, and are an important part of oral health throughout childhood and beyond.