Are Dental X-Rays Safe for Kids?

As a parent, it’s normal to worry about exposing your kids to dangers. Perhaps that’s why so many moms and dads express concerns about their children having dental x-rays.

What are x-rays?

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation that penetrates the body. An x-ray machine emits radiation through your body. Some of that radiation is absorbed by a digital detector or film located on the opposite side of the body. The resulting image of your bones, teeth, lungs, intestines or other bodily tissues provides doctors and dentists information needed to make a diagnosis or plan treatment.
Since x-rays involve radiation, it’s natural for parents to worry about the safety of dental x-rays. Rest assured, x-rays are extremely safe, only taken when necessary and the benefits far outweigh the risks.

How are dental x-rays used?

Parents often ask if x-rays are really necessary to maintain good oral health. In short, your child should have periodic x-rays. Children who have no permanent teeth and have never had a cavity may only need x-rays every 12-24 months; children who have had cavities in baby teeth probably need x-rays every six to 12 months. As more permanent teeth come in, children will need x-rays more frequently since it’s difficult to see decay between the teeth during a clinical exam.
In pediatric dentistry, we use x-rays to diagnose dental problems or to guide treatment. For example, x-rays allow us to:

  • See cavities between teeth,
  • Identify decay that can’t be seen with the naked eye,
  • See a child’s teeth that haven’t erupted yet,
  • Determine the size, position, and number of teeth that remain inside the gums,
  • Identify missing or extra teeth,
  • Confirm decay is not getting worse,
  • Establish a record of your child’s mouth that can be monitored over time,
  • Find infection in the mouth or teeth,
  • Monitor injuries as they heal,
  • Plan future orthodontic treatment.

Types of x-rays

There are four primary types of dental x-rays.
Bitewing x-rays allow us to see areas between the teeth. We can see where areas of decay may be starting. Kids normally don’t need bitewing x-rays until the teeth in the back of the mouth touch one another.
Periapical x-rays are used to see the entire crown and roots of three consecutive teeth. We’ll be able to see the tooth’s bone structure or any permanent teeth that are waiting to come in. These x-rays are also used to locate abscesses and identify gum disease.
Panoramic x-rays allow us to see all of your child’s teeth along with both jaw bones, the sinuses, and temporomandibular joints. These films can be helpful in assessing injuries or planning orthodontic treatment.
Occlusal x-rays show all the upper or all the lower teeth on one film. We sometimes use these instead of a panoramic x-ray or if a child can’t tolerate a bitewing x-ray.

Are x-rays dangerous?

No, x-rays are not inherently dangerous. We take every precaution to keep your children safe and limit exposure to radiation during dental x-rays. To limit radiation exposure, we place lead aprons and shields on your child’s body, and we use high-speed film and digital x-rays that limit the amount of radiation used during the test. Plus, we don’t take x-rays unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. We would never take x-rays as a matter of routine care.
And while x-rays are not dangerous, they can be uncomfortable for some children. With bitewing x-rays, the film must be held inside the mouth while the picture is taken. This can sometimes cause discomfort in little mouths.
If you have more questions about dental x-rays, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We would love the opportunity to discuss this topic with you in further detail before your child’s exam. Schedule an appointment by calling our office today at (407) 628-2286 in Maitland or at (407) 593-8900 in St. Cloud.