Here’s What Parents Should Know About Dental X-Rays


In my dental practice, I encourage parents to learn as much as they can about the dental procedures we use on our youngest patients. A common concern is about dental x-rays – what are the different kinds; how do they work; are they safe; how often should children be exposed? From the American Dental Association, here are some of the answers to parent questions about dental x-rays for children.

What are the different types of dental X-rays?

  • Bitewings – the x-ray film or plastic sensor has a little tab in the middle that the patient bites on with their back teeth. These x-ray pictures help look for cavities between the back teeth.
  • Periapicals – these x-ray pictures are used to look at the roots of the front or back teeth. Each periapical x-ray picture can only look at two or three teeth.
  • Panoramic x-ray – a machine that rotates around the outside of the head takes this picture. It can show all the jaw bones and all the teeth.
  • Cone Beam CT – this is like a medical CT scan, but it uses fewer x-rays. However, the cone beam CT uses more x-rays than bitewing, periapical or panoramic x-rays. It helps make three-dimensional (3D) pictures. It is infrequently used compared to the other types of dental x-rays.

How much radiation is used in dental X-rays?

The dentist will use only enough radiation to see what he or she needs to care for your child. We all are exposed to small amounts of radiation daily from the sun, soil, rocks, buildings, air, and water. This type of natural radiation is called background radiation. The amount of radiation your child is getting during their x-ray exam is about the same as the amount of daily background radiation.

What are the risks from radiation?

The risk from a single dental x-ray picture is minimal. However, some studies do show a slight increase in cancer risk, even at low levels of radiation exposure, particularly in children. To be safe, we should act as if low doses of radiation may cause harm.

How can we reduce the radiation to my child?

The amount of radiation from one dental x-ray picture is very small. Still, it is essential to keep the radiation amount as low as possible. Your dentist will balance the benefit of the x-ray picture and the potential small risks of using x rays. Different x-ray pictures are chosen based on the dental care needed.

dental-xrays-pediatric-dentistryThere are ways to make sure your child is exposed to the lowest amount of radiation possible during an x-ray picture. The Image Gently campaign suggests making sure that your dentist uses the following:

  • X-ray pictures based specifically on your child’s needs, not merely as a routine test
  • Up to date equipment and techniques
  • Protective shields for the body
  • Child-size exposure times
  • Cone-beam CT only when necessary


If you still have concerns or more questions about dental x-rays for your child talk with your dentist. Find out which types of x-rays are used for children’s diagnosis and treatment plans. Let the dental treatment team know about your concerns and be willing to discuss them.

Sources: Image Gently; American Dental Association

Remember, healthy teeth make a healthy smile!

Dr. Nishan Halim

Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult and pediatric dentistry with restorative and cosmetic procedures, as well as preventive dentistry, in his Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. Contact the office to schedule an appointment for your child and ask our treatment team to discuss any concerns you have about dental x-rays. 

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