Dental radiographs, also known as dental X-rays, are important diagnostic tools in pediatric dentistry. Dental radiographs allow the dentist to see and treat problems like childhood cavities, tooth decay, orthodontic misalignment, bone injuries, and bone diseases before they worsen. These issues would be difficult (in some cases impossible) to see with the naked eye during a clinical examination.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) approves the use of dental radiographs for diagnostic purposes in children and teenagers. Although radiographs only emit tiny amounts of radiation and are safe to use on an occasional basis, the AAPD guidelines aim to protect young people from unnecessary X-ray exposure.
What are dental X-rays used for?
Dental x-rays are extremely versatile diagnostic tools. Some of their main uses in pediatric dentistry include:
- Assessing the amount of space available for incoming teeth.
- Checking whether primary teeth are being shed in good time for adult teeth to emerge.
- Evaluating the progression of bone disease.
- Monitoring and diagnosing tooth decay.
- Planning treatment (especially orthodontic treatment).
- Revealing bone injuries, abscesses, and tumors.
- Revealing impacted wisdom teeth.
When will my child need dental X-rays?
Individual circumstances dictate how often a child needs to have dental radiographs taken. Children at higher-than-average risk of childhood tooth decay (as determined by the pediatric dentist) may need biannual radiographs to monitor changes in the condition of the teeth. Likewise, children who are at high risk for orthodontic problems, for example, malocclusion, may also need sets of radiographs taken more frequently for monitoring purposes.
Children at average or below average risk for tooth decay and orthodontic problems should have a set of dental X-rays taken every one to two years. Even in cases where the pediatric dentist suspects no decay at all, it is still important to periodically monitor tooth and jaw growth – primarily to ensure there is sufficient space available for incoming permanent teeth.
If the oral region has been subject to trauma or injury, the pediatric dentist may want to X-ray the mouth immediately. Developments in X-ray technology mean that specific areas of the mouth can be targeted and X-rayed separately, reducing the amount of unnecessary X-ray exposure.
What precautions will be taken to ensure my child’s safety?
Though dental radiographs are perfectly safe for use on children, the pediatric dentist will take several precautions to ensure the X-ray process does not unduly damage the child’s cells and bodily tissues.
First, the child will be covered in a lead apron to protect the body from unnecessary exposure. Second, the dentist will use shields to protect the parts of the face that are not being X-rayed. Finally, the pediatric dentist will use high-speed film to reduce radiation exposure as much as possible.
If you have questions or concerns about dental radiographs or X-rays, please contact your pediatric dentist.