If you’ve been to the dentist in the last 50 years, then you probably have experienced a dental radiography, better known as an X-ray. X-ray images are an important tool dentists use to diagnose dental diseases.
However, all X-rays use ionizing radiation that can potentially cause damage. Though it is spread out in tiny doses, the effect of radiation from years of X-rays is cumulative. The risks associated with this radiation are greater for children than for adults.
Since X-rays do create a risk-benefit situation, they do not need to be part of every exam. They should be ordered only after the dentist has examined the mouth and has determined that X-rays are needed to make a proper diagnosis. In general, children and adults at low risk for tooth decay and gum disease need X-rays less frequently.
The purpose of X-rays is to allow dentists to see signs of disease or potential problems that are not visible to the naked eye. They are usually ordered after the dentist has done a clinical exam and considered any signs and symptoms, oral and medical history, diet, hygiene, fluoride use and other factors that might suggest a higher risk of hidden dental disease. So be sure that your dentist checks your child’s teeth, health history and risk factors before they decide an X-ray is necessary.
Even though the individual risk from a necessary X-ray is quite small when compared to the benefit of aiding accurate diagnosis or guiding a treatment, dentists are encouraged to follow the ALARA principle that is “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” In other words, only order what is absolutely needed to make a diagnosis.