X-rays are a valuable diagnostic tool in many areas of healthcare including dental visits. They help your dentist identify many factors in adults and children such as: how teeth are coming in, position and size of teeth, extra teeth or empty spaces in the gums (missing teeth), monitoring injuries, seeing/monitoring oral infections, identifying bone diseases, and problems beyond the scope of a visual exam.
There is no set age at which your child needs to have their first dental X-ray. The need varies with your child’s development and overall dental health. If your child has had many cavities and fillings or has a high risk for tooth decay, your dentist might suggest X-rays every six months. This may continue until oral health improves or is at least under control. Whether X-rays are needed also depends on how well your child brushes and flosses, as well as the child’s diet.
Some kids will need X-rays more often than others. Everyone’s teeth are different – if X-rays are not taken when needed, problems can worsen. Depending on the goal, there are five different types of X-rays your dentist may use on your child.
Bitewing X-rays are usually the most common. These X-rays are used to view the areas between teeth that cannot be seen directly with the naked eye. 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 has come through. Some dentists also refer to these as cavity-detecting X-rays.
For a deeper view of a crown plus the roots of one, two, or three adjacent teeth, your dentist might use a Periapical X-ray. This type 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 is also used to look for abscesses and gum disease.
To see all the teeth in the mouth on a single film, your dentist will use a Panoramic X-ray. They show the upper and lower jaws, the joints 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.
If your dentist does not have access to a panoramic machine, he or she will use an Occlusal X-ray to get a full view of the upper and lower teeth.
When orthodontics are involved – whether your child is in the process of getting braces or already has them – your dentist will likely want to look at the growth of the jaw and the relationship of bones in the skull. It helps an orthodontist make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. These are simply called Orthodontic X-rays.