Are X-rays (Radiographs) Truly Necessary?

This is a question our front desk team members gets asked often when scheduling a new patient appointment. It is difficult to answer “Yes” or “No” due to the fact that for new patients we do not have any information on file regarding their dental history, family history, dietary habits, oral hygiene status, dental age, and ultimately there’s no “caries risk” status on file. It is imperative to know that a definitive and complete diagnosis on a child’s oral status rests on a clinical and radiographic (X-ray) exam. Dental X-Rays play a vital role in determining the presence or absence of dental disease, supernumerary teeth, pathology, dental abnormalities (including benign and malignant tumors), and dental development. At Green Apple Pediatric Dentistry, we follow the standard of care and guidelines to determine when and how many radiographs need to be obtained.

I recently had a lovely couple present themselves, at another location I currently work at, with their child of almost four years of age, to get a second professional opinion. The child had been seeing a dentist at another dental office for the previous two years. At the conclusion of my exam, I discovered several cavities. The couple was very surprised to find out their child had that many cavities. The child had not been able to sit still and cooperate for X-rays in previous appointments at the previous office. The X-rays obtained not only showed several cavities but it also showed how advanced the decay was, calling for crowns on the teeth rather than just fillings.

Another example of the importance of X-rays was the presence of a child with the two front upper teeth erupting with a large gap between the teeth. The child had not had radiographs taken in a few years. The new radiographs showed the presence of a supernumerary (extra) tooth in between both front teeth to be the cause for such gap. In this case the child will need braces to help bring the teeth together. Early detection and extraction of such supernumerary tooth might have prevented this course of action.

As a pediatric dentist I have to agree that sometimes when the child is too young to cooperate, it is very difficult or impossible to obtain diagnostic X-rays and sometimes even when we try our best it is just not possible. However, when we cannot visualize the surfaces in between the teeth, and we have a young cooperative child, it is important to have X-rays as a piece of information to properly guide parents in the oral health status of their child and provide them with alerts when there is a cavity beginning to develop and most importantly, rule out any pathology present.

At Green Apple Pediatric Dentistry, we use digital fast speed sensors to obtain radiographs, meaning the X-ray exposure is very low. In addition, we use a protective apron to cover the child’s body including the neck area. If there are any fears or concerns about radiographs, we invite you to discuss those with us and trust that our intent is to take care of your child the best way possible.

A radiographic (X-ray) exam is highly important for new patients; how many are needed and how often at subsequent visits is determined once a child is established as a patient and a full comprehensive exam has been completed.