Toddlers: Does your toddler need x-rays?

When I took my three year old in for his dental appointment, the dentist wanted to take x-rays. My son had a difficult time with this procedure. Are x-rays necessary at such young age?


Radiographs (x-rays) can and should be taken for young children. Bitewing x-rays determine cavity formation between the back teeth. This information can be vital for treatment planning and preventive strategies in adults and children. I used to wait until children were five years old before taking bitewings. I have recently started taking them as young as three to diagnose cavities at an earlier stage. You should attempt to get a set of bitewing x-rays during your son's next six month check up.

Obtaining radiographs without upsetting or hurting a child is very important. A series of steps can be followed to create a pleasant experience. It is important for the dental professional to establish some rapport with the child.

The tell, show, do technique, familiarizes the child with an unknown procedure. In this case, I begin by telling the child about the "pictures" and then showing him the film, the camera and the special lead shield blanket. I then use a large model of teeth to show the child how the film is placed in their mouth and explain what is expected of them as a patient. I explain how the camera is positioned and how it must be close to the cheek. It may feel a little cold if it touches the cheek, but it will not hurt. Positive reinforcement at every step is key to obtaining help from the child.

If children still show apprehension or reluctance, modeling can be helpful. Having a parent or a cooperative older sibling sit in the chair and hold a film in their mouth may show the child there is nothing to fear. In some cases, having a child sit in the parent's lap may be the only way to obtain good films.

Once diagnostic films are obtained, you and your dentist can discuss the results. Bitewing x-rays on three and four year olds have proven to be quite beneficial. It is much easier to treat cavities when they are small, rather than waiting two to three years for extensive damage and toothaches to occur. These films also aid in educating parents about preventive techniques such as flossing and fluoride supplementation.

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