Dental X-Rays

How safe are dental x-rays?

We are very careful to limit your child's exposure to radiation. Using contemporary safeguards, the amount of radiation received is extremely small. In fact, the risk associated with exposure to a dental xray is lower than undetected and untreated dental problems.

How can I limit my child's exposure to radiation?

  1. Talk to your child's dentist at each appointment, and ask whether x-rays are necessary.
  2. Digital x-rays are utilized at South Hill Pediatric Dentistry, significantly reducing radiation exposure.
  3. Children must wear lead aprons to block the body from exposure.

How often should my child have x-rays?

Every child is unique and different, so the x-rays needed for one child may be different for another child of the same age. However, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, as well as the American Dental Association recommend that children have x-rays taken by age 3 or 4 to evaluate growth and development. This may involve taking one x-ray of the upper front teeth and one of the lower front teeth, as well as one on each side, depending on how many teeth a child has. X-rays of upper and lower teeth do not need to be taken again at each checkup, unless the child has had trauma to a front tooth. X-rays of back teeth should be taken at a minimum of once/ year if the back molars are touching each other. The sides of these teeth cannot be visualized with a dental exam, and often the only way to identify decay is with an x-ray. Decay damages children's teeth at a faster rate than permanent teeth, and when untreated can cause severe infection.

What if my child has never had a cavity?

X-ray films can detect more than just cavities. X-rays can detect certain infections caused by trauma, and can give valuable information about the developing teeth. Children's mouths change rapidly as they grow, and x-rays provide vital details about the health of unerupted permanent teeth, as well as the surrounding bone and tissue. Your child's dentist will use these x-rays to screen for diseases, tumors, missing/extra teeth, malpositioned teeth, and orthodontic planning.

My child has braces. Does he/she still need x-rays?

X-rays may be taken at a check-up if your child has braces. If the orthodontic wires are in, we may not be able to see between all of the teeth, and may elect to defer x-rays until the wires can be temporarily removed. Children with braces are highly susceptible to decay due to difficulty brushing and flossing around wires and brackets, as well as because of the limited diagnostic ability of x-rays while the wires are in. For this reason, it is crucial to take x-rays as soon as braces have been taken off, as cavities may have formed between your child's teeth.

Will x-rays always be taken at each visit?

No. X-rays are recommended only when necessary to evaluate and monitor your child's oral health. The frequency of films taken is dependent on your child's needs. Many times, two bitewing x-rays will be taken at your child's check screen for cavities that may have started between visits. If your child has had trauma to one or more teeth, xrays may be indicated at each follow-up appointment to ensure that infection of the root does not begin. Drs. Coombs and Johnson welcome any questions you may have about your child's needs.

Comparing Common Sources of Radiation:

Source (Estimated Exposure - MSV*)

Dental Radiographs

Bitewings (2): 0.016

Medical Radiographs:

Lower GI series: 4.060

Upper GI series: 2.440

Chest X-ray: 0.080

Average radiation from outer space in Denver CO per year:

Average radiation in the United States from natural sources per year:

* A millisievert (mSv) is a unit of measure that allows for common types of radiation to be compared to each other.