Why Does My Child Need Dental X Rays?

Picture this: you’re at the dentist with your son and the dentist says, “We’re going to need to take a new set of x rays for Benny,” but you’re wondering why he needs new x rays when he had them one year ago. Far too often, parents get stuck in this situation where they don’t know why their child needs new x rays and if it’s safe for them to have more x rays taken. Thankfully, healthcare technology has improved tremendously over the last few decades to ensure that children are getting the safest and most effective care possible. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that children are constantly growing, and their dentition will change and grow along with them.

How Safe Are Dental X Rays for Kids?

While x rays do produce a small amount of radiation, your child’s healthcare professional would never prescribe them an x ray if they thought it would hurt them more than help them. In order to provide the safest care and lowest dose of radiation medically necessary, healthcare providers take the following factors into account:

The ALARA Principle

All healthcare providers must lawfully abide by the “as low as reasonably achievable” (the ALARA principle) safety principle. The ALARA principle says that providers must take these three factors into account to minimize the amount of radiation patients are exposed to: time, distance and shielding. Time refers to the amount of time a patient is exposed, distance refers to the physical distance between the patient and the machine, and shielding refers to the lead apron and thyroid collar to protect the rest of the body from unnecessary exposure. The amount of time for exposure should be the shortest amount of time possible, and the distance should be as far as possible in order to still get a clear image but also keep radiation exposure minimal.


Some of the safest x ray machines are in pediatric-specialized offices, where the radiological equipment tends to be calibrated specifically for child-sized doses of radiation. This helps to ensure the least amount of exposure necessary is used for pediatric x rays. It’s especially important to choose a pediatric dental office where the dentist stays up to date with the latest technology. When it comes to radiological equipment, the newest advancements usually mean advancements in mechanical safety measures as well. This is why it’s so important to choose a dentist with the latest in technology to ensure the safest and most effective care for your child.

Types of Dental X Rays

Some of the most common dental x rays that are prescribed for kids include the following (but are not limited to):

  1. Bitewings: A very common type of dental x ray that give the dentist information about the child’s bite and can show abnormalities like tooth decay at the crown and in between the teeth.
  2. Panoramic: Provides a complete, 360-degree image of the mouth to the pediatric dentist. Panoramic x rays also show abnormalities within the bone, tumors, cysts, new and unerupted teeth, infections, among many other dental maladies.
  3. Cone Beam CT: Like the panoramic x ray, this shows a 360-degree view of the mouth except it is three dimensional with much further detail, allowing the dentist to see a digitized version of the entire jaw. CT scans may also be limited to a specific section to focus in on a single area.
  4. Periapical: Focuses on one or two teeth at a time to show the entire tooth from its root to its crown. This type of x ray shows abscesses, cysts, bone loss, and tooth decay as well.

5 Common Reasons for Kids Dental X Rays

The following scenarios indicate that an x ray or set of x rays are necessary for proper thorough dental treatment:

  1. In order to see in between the teeth to find tooth decay that is otherwise not detectable with just dental tools and a clinical examination.
  2. When a patient presents with pain, swelling and/or bleeding that is inexplicable with the naked eye.
  3. After a traumatic event occurs and the child is injured in or near the mouth, and the dentist needs to evaluate any further damage underneath the skin and/or oral tissues.
  4. To evaluate and check on unerupted and/or impacted teeth, and to help predict the trajectory of the teeth.
  5. As part of a yearly checkup, x rays may be used to detect changes in your child’s oral health such as new cavities, infections, etc.

Advanced Children’s Dentistry is a state-of-the-art pediatric dental practice in Nassau County, NY where our pediatric dentist Dr. Sybil Padavathil provides a fun and educational dental experience. Schedule your child’s pediatric dental appointment at 516-758-KIDS.


Inforgraphic about kids dental x rays

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