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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jason

What's the Deal with X-rays?

Lots of parents want to know: “What’s the deal with X-rays?” There’s a lot to learn about X-rays so let’s dive in.

At your child’s 6-month check-up we always take X-rays as a part of their visit. X-rays (or radiographs) are pictures that show us exactly what your child’s teeth and bone look like. They play a very important role in your child’s oral health as well as helping us understand your child’s progress in oral growth and development.

There are 2 different kinds of radiographs that are primary used in our office: bite-wings and panoramic X-rays.  


Panoramic X-rays are radiographs that can be taken from outside of the mouth. They are recommended at least every 5 years to assess growth and development of the teeth and jaw.  Orthodontists use them regularly in determining progress of a patient’s treatment, so during ortho treatment they may be taken much more often than the usual 5 yr timeframe. 

Bite-wings are radiographs that use a sensor that is placed inside the mouth. The sensor allows a detailed view of the teeth to be displayed on a computer. These pictures show the dentist the health of the teeth and bone surrounding the teeth. Because decay can quickly form, we recommend these X-rays be taken at least once a year. Often in our office we will recommend that children should get them every six months.

X-rays may seem like they are optional, but they are truly necessary. If a child’s back teeth have no space in between them, there is no way for the dentist to see if a cavity is forming without an X-ray. The above mentioned bitewings allow us to view the health of the teeth in relation each other. Usually we can use our naked eye to view the health of the “brushing surfaces” but the X-rays show us the health of the “flossing surfaces”.

We don’t usually take regular X-rays on children until they reach age 4. This is because the teeth in the back start to get closer together at this age, making it more likely that cavities could develop. If a child’s mouth is too small or they are too uncomfortable and not able to bite down adequately for the sensor, modifications can be made to allow the child to stay open and still get the picture needed to see in between their teeth.

Common X-ray questions we often hear: 

Q: “My child doesn’t have any pain, so they probably don’t have any cavities. Why do they need X-rays?”

A: Unlike adult teeth, baby teeth don’t feel pain until the decay is close to the nerve. A small cavity can be repaired with a small filling if it is caught before the child starts feeling discomfort.  We would much prefer to treat a cavity before it becomes painful to a child.

Q: “My child just had X-rays taken from the orthodontist, so do they need them again?”

A: The panoramic radiograph is very useful for determining orthodontic growth and development but does not have detail enough to detect cavities. The bitewing is still the best way to detect cavities.

Q: Don’t X-rays expose my child to radiation?”

A: Yes, but current technology allows us to take more accurate radiographs without as much radiation. Radiation from X-rays taken 30 years ago necessitated wearing an apron for both the patient and the assistant in order to avoid exposure. Currently, studies are being made to determine whether the aprons are even necessary with how little radiation is emitted X-ray systems we currently use. You have more exposure to radiation when riding in an airplane or being out in the sun than you get from the X-rays you get from your normal 6-month checkup at the dentist.

If you have any questions about X-rays, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist or staff member. We are strong proponents of X-rays and believe that in the long run they will improve your health and well-being.

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