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Featuring consumer information from Columbia School of Dental & Oral Surgery
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Oral Health Made Simple: Your Prescription For Knowledge
 PREVENT PROBLEMS
Small BoxAll About Cavities
Small BoxBrushing and Flossing
Small BoxFluoride
Small BoxMouth-Healthy Eating
Small BoxSealants
Small BoxTaking Care of Your Teeth
Small BoxTobacco
Small BoxYour Dental Visit
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 CONDITIONS
Small BoxBad Breath
Small BoxCavities
Small BoxCold Sores
Small BoxDry Mouth
Small BoxImpacted Tooth
Small BoxSensitive Teeth
Small BoxTMJ
Small BoxTooth Discoloration
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 TREATMENTS
Small BoxCrowns
Small BoxDentures
Small BoxFillings: The Basics
Small BoxGum Surgery
Small BoxImplants
Small BoxRoot Canal Treatment
Small BoxScaling and Root Planing
Small BoxWhitening
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 GENERAL TOPICS
Small BoxControlling Pain
Small BoxCosmetic Dentistry
Small BoxEmergencies
Small BoxFill, Repair, Replace
Small BoxKids And Teens
Small BoxOral Health and Your Body
Small BoxOrthodontics
Small BoxPeriodontics
Small BoxSeniors
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Step 1 Prevent ProblemsSimplestepsPrevent Problems
Step 2 Understand ConditionsSimplestepsUnderstand Conditions
Step 3 Explore TreatmentsSimplestepsExplore Treatments

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X-Rays for Children

X-rays, also called radiographs, are a valuable diagnostic tool. X-rays help the dentist to

  • See how your child's teeth are erupting (coming into the mouth)
  • See the number, size and position of teeth that are still inside the gums
  • Find out whether there are missing teeth or extra teeth
  • Monitor mouth and teeth injuries
  • Determine whether the teeth or mouth are infected
  • Prepare for braces and other orthodontic treatment
  • Detect problems that can't be seen with a visual exam
  • Identify bone diseases

There is no standard timetable for when your child's mouth should be X-rayed. The need varies with the child's development and dental health. If your child has had many cavities and fillings or has a high risk of tooth decay, your dentist might suggest X-rays every six months. This may continue until the problem is under control. Whether X-rays are needed also depends on how well the child brushes and flosses, and the child's diet.

Other children may not need X-rays taken as often. If X-rays aren't taken when they are needed, problems can become worse.

There are five types of X-rays your dentist may use for your child, depending on the goal:

  • Bitewing X-rays (also called cavity-detecting X-rays) — These X-rays are used to view the areas between teeth that cannot be seen directly. They show where cavities are starting. These X-rays are needed only after the teeth in the back of the mouth are contacting each other. In some children, this doesn't happen until the first permanent molar (also called the 6-year molar) has erupted.


  • Periapical X-rays — These are used to view the entire crowns and roots of one, two or three adjacent teeth. The X-rays also will show the supporting bone structure of the teeth. This type of X-ray lets the dentist see a child's permanent teeth growing below the baby teeth. It also is used to look for abscesses and gum disease.


  • Panoramic X-rays — These X-rays are used to view all of the teeth on one film. They also show the upper and lower jaws, the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) and the sinuses above the upper teeth. They are often used if a child has hurt his or her face, has orthodontic problems, or is mentally or physically disabled. Panoramic X-rays, unlike other types, do not require a film to be put in the child's mouth. This is helpful for children who gag easily or who have small mouths. This X-ray has to be exposed for 12 to 18 seconds. The patient must be able to sit still for that whole time.


  • Occlusal X-rays — These are used to view most of the upper or lower teeth on one film. This is useful when the dentist does not have a panoramic X-ray machine.


  • Orthodontic X-rays (also called cephalometric or lateral skull) — This type of X-ray shows the head from the side. It is used to evaluate growth of the jaws and the relationship of bones in the skull. It helps an orthodontist make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

Dental X-rays are very safe and expose your child to a minimal amount of radiation. When all standard safety precautions are taken, today's X-ray equipment is able to eliminate unnecessary radiation and allows the dentist to focus the X-ray beam on a specific part of the mouth. High-speed film enables the dentist to reduce the amount of radiation the patient receives. A lead body apron or shield should be used to protect the genital/reproductive area and the thyroid gland.

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  See Also . . .
Graphic for Tooth Eruption showing an infant's headYour Child's Age 1 Visit
Your Child's Mouth
Repairing Children's Teeth
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