As parents, we all want what’s best for our children. We want them to be happy, healthy, and safe.

One of the specific concerns in the dental arena is radiation exposure from dental x-rays. Certain populations are at an increased risk to radiation, and unfortunately, children are at an increased risk for susceptibility to radiation exposure. Because of that increased susceptibility, it’s natural to be concerned about dental x-rays.

Today, I want to briefly discuss that topic.

The underlying principle

Above all else, dentists and doctors must abide by the Hippocratic Oath, which we all know as: “First, do no harm.” When considering this principle with how it relates to dental radiographs, I interpret it as: “don’t unnecessarily expose someone to radiation if there are other ways to evaluate for dental caries.”

The American Dental Association’s official guidelines and recommendations are very similar. The ADA recommends that dentists follow the ALARA Principle: “As Low as Reasonably Achievable”. That corresponds very nicely to the above interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath as it relates to dental x-rays.

The solution

The need for dental x-rays shouldn’t be determined by what your insurance will or won’t cover. Instead, the need for dental x-rays should always be based on the specific needs of your child. Because of the potential for harm (even though it is low risk), x-rays are procedures that cannot be done without the order of a doctor. By definition, this means that they are prescribed, and prescriptions are specific orders customized to the individual patient.

Putting it into practice

Dental x-rays don’t need to be feared. They are a useful diagnostic tool that provides valuable information to the dentist. We need them to evaluate interproximal tooth surfaces, which are the surfaces where your teeth directly touch each other. We also need x-rays to monitor and evaluate growth and development in children. Children or patients that have obvious signs of clinical decay (visible cavities) and/or have teeth that are closely touching each other (“tight contacts”) are at a higher risk for cavity development. Because they’re higher risk, there is a greater need for dental x-rays with these patients. We consider all of these factors (and more!) when developing your child’s customized dental x-ray plan.

Things you can do

If exposure to dental x-ray radiation is something that is of particular concern to you, don’t sweat it! Ask your dentist to talk to you about it. You shouldn’t worry that you’ll be misunderstood or “come across wrong.” It’s your right to make an informed decision about your child’s oral health, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that you are fully educated regarding the risks and benefits of any procedure.

We are more than happy to sit down with you and talk to you about this stuff. We want to make sure that you have all of your questions answered and that you’re comfortable with the treatment that we’re recommending. A few questions that might be particularly useful are:

  • What information will this x-ray show you?
  • Is there any other way to obtain this information?
  • What risks are there from not obtaining this x-ray?
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In conclusion…

One thing to keep in mind is that the x-rays we take are roughly equivalent to a day’s worth of background radiation that you are exposed to in normal everyday activities. We’re exposed to radiation from the sun, buildings, televisions, and cross-country flights.

Dental x-rays are administered with the lowest amount of radiation possible to obtain the necessary information, but there is still exposure. Radiographic exposure is cumulative, so we do have to be cautious and conservative with our use of them.

At Children’s Dentistry of Charlottesville, we take this matter very seriously. We all have loved-ones and some of us have children. We get it. We want what’s best for our children and families, and we want what’s best for yours too. If you find you have questions about dental x-rays after reading this post, feel free to get in touch! We’ll make sure to answer any questions or concerns you have.