Dental X-Rays for Kids

Dental X-rays for children can be vital to detect any issues hidden beneath the surface of the teeth enamel and below the gum line. But many parents have concerns about whether they are safe for their kids. The good news is that with modern technology, dental X-rays are safer than ever before.

In many dental offices, digital X-rays have largely replaced the old film versions. They are safer because they emit about 80 per cent less radiation than film X-rays. In fact, the level of radiation from a set of digital X-rays is less than the level of radiation we’re exposed to naturally in the course of one day.

The term X-ray refers to invisible electromagnetic radiation that can infiltrate human tissue. How much radiation (energy) is absorbed depends on the density of the tissue, and this is how X-ray pictures (radiographs) are created. For instance, X-ray energy will pass through a cavity, producing a darker image, which will show on the film or sensor.

When deciding whether dental X-rays are necessary for your child, an experienced dentist will always weigh up risks against benefits, based on the youngster’s individual circumstances. Dental X-rays are never used indiscriminately, especially with children, because of their potential – albeit a minor risk – of causing cancer.

Young people are more radiosensitive than adults, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates X-ray apparatus, recognizes that kids’ exposure to X-rays is a cause of parental concern. The FDA insists that X-ray units have special settings for children that minimize the effects of radiation.

Health professionals, including dentists, are advised to adhere to the ALARA principal on radiation dosage – As Low as Reasonably Achievable – and, in modern dentistry, digital X-ray technology and techniques allow for the delivery of extremely low levels of radiation.

Skilled dentists will never take X-rays as a matter of routine: they follow American Dental Association (ADA) and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines on X-rays. The ADA and AAPD both recommend that X-rays should only be used after a clinical examination of the patient and a review of their medical history, including previous use and frequency of X-rays

Benefits of Dental X-Rays for Kids

While X-rays are diagnostic in nature, they re also a preventative measure, helping to spot issues in your child’s mouth before they become a major problem. An examination of your kid’s teeth without an X-ray may not reveal many potential issues with the teeth and surrounding tissue, including small patches of decay beneath fillings, bone infection, abscesses and tumours.

X-rays are also indispensable in detecting problems such as jaw and tooth root issues, and gum disease including gingivitis. Discovery of these problems at an early stage is vital for an effective plan of treatment.

Without X-rays, issues not obviously apparent could go undiagnosed, resulting in progressive worsening, even to the extent of threatening your child’s overall health. Left untreated, a gum infection can spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, heart and brain.

Different Types of X-Rays

Intraoral X-rays – the most common form of dental radiography – produce images from inside the mouth. They show precise details of teeth and supporting bones, enabling your youngster’s dentist to evaluate tooth development and root health, detect cavities, and see how securely the jaw bone is anchoring teeth as well as potential dental crown needs.

Extraoral X-rays, which are taken outside the mouth, concentrate on the bigger bones in the head, especially the lower and upper jaw. These images help your kid’s dentist to monitor the condition of the jaw joint and to spot problems such as impacted teeth.

A typical use of dental X-rays for kids is the creation of bitewing radiographs. Bitewings get their name from the small tabs or wings attached to the films or sensors that the child bites on. They are invaluable in spotting decay between the back teeth, where cavities are often not immediately apparent. Bitewing X-rays are extremely safe, exposing a youngster to less radiation than they would get daily from natural background sources in the environment.

Panoramic radiography enables your child’s dentist to get an overall picture of the entire mouth in a single image. Panoramic X-rays not only show the condition of the teeth – including any yet to surface – but also the state of the upper and lower jaws and surrounding tissue and structures. They are used for a general review of teeth and supporting bone, and to assess wisdom teeth in particular.

Orthodontic X-rays (cephalometric projections) show an entire side of your child's head. Since the teeth are visible in the same image as the head and jaw, these images can be indispensable in planning orthodontic treatments to correct misaligned or crooked teeth.

Cone Beam Computerized Tomography (CBCT) X-rays provide a three-dimensional view of your child's mouth when the dentist needs to gauge the spacing and development of the teeth.

Weigh Up the Pros and Cons with Your Child’s Dentist

Professional radiographers can interpret X-rays in detail to spot problems that would otherwise remain undetected, and X-rays play a crucial role in diagnosis of teeth and gum issues, enabling appropriate action and treatment (such as the need for a tooth extraction) before the problem worsens.

Many diagnostic procedures can carry some risk, but, more often than not, the information provided by a dental X-ray will lead to long-term health benefits for your child that far outweigh the risks of the procedure.

If your dentist suggests your youngster should have an X-ray, ask him or her to explain how the results of the procedure will help your kid’s healthcare, and why another form of diagnosis would be less effective. To make an informed decision about whether your child should have dental X-rays, you need to be armed with information about the risks, benefits and alternatives. A good dentist will be happy to explain these aspects to you.

Youngsters with a low risk of tooth decay don't require X-rays as often, so encouraging your child to develop a good oral hygiene routine at home will help to minimize the need for X-rays.