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Are x-rays really necessary?

One of the questions that I often field from concerned first-time dental visitors is, “Are you going to take x-rays of my child?” When I hear that question, so many things flash through  my mind, but what stands out is that what the parent is really asking is, “Is this safe for my child – and if not, are you still going to do it?”

What I wish is that I could assure all parents that our primary focus is the health and safety of your child. It’s why we have our oft-quoted Parent Guidelines, why we choose BPA-Free and Mercury-Free products, why we undergo extensive training prior to working in this office and during the time we are here to know how to make the experience for a child both positive AND safe. When the doctor recommends a course of treatment or a method of diagnosis, she is doing so having weighed the potential risks and known benefits and ensured that her decision will be the safest for each child we see.

Given that as our foundation, it follows that we would use x-rays only for that health and safety also. However, recent articles like this one and others often will question the benefits of x-ray diagnosis when radiation is involved. It is vitally important to inform yourself as a parent and educate yourself on even the most routine of visits; not only to protect your child, but also so that you can have an intelligent knowledge of dental health that you can continue to teach to your children. The American Assocation of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) is an excellent resource (check out their links for parents) to understand what should happen at your child’s visit, and the ADA also has great information as well.

But back to x-rays. Should they really be done every year and what risk does it pose to your child? Both the AAPD and the ADA recommend that x-rays be done every year for a child that has teeth touching (generally around age 4 or 5 is when that would start occuring, although it varies from child to child) , and more often if a child has past history of caries (decay), so that the dentist can accurately diagnose cavities on those surfaces and below the surface. As this article so poignantly suggests, if a toe or nose were eroding slowly from decay, parents are educated already to do something promptly about their child’s health, but when teeth start decaying, at times it isn’t a priority or we don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

Thankfully there are many options with new technology that limit radiation exposure. For example, the type of digital radiography used here at World of Smiles produces less radiation than an active microwave. When you consider how much radiation is active in our daily atmosphere; to have minimal exposure once a year for the prevention of decay and the diagnosis of bone pathologies or other dental disorders (ie: missing teeth, extra teeth, etc) and restore the child to active health is a much higher benefit than risking their overall health. And you should always feel like you can talk to your child’s care provider about your concerns and questions; they are here to assist you in understanding everything involved with the care and well-being of your child!

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