Do Toddlers Need Dental X-Rays?

25 September 2015
 Categories: Dentist, Articles


When it comes time for your toddler to see a dentist, you may be given the option of getting dental x-rays done. While it's not imperative for children under age five to get x-rays, it can be very beneficial in spotting potential problems. Continue reading to understand how dental x-rays can benefit your toddler and when you should expect them.

What Problems are Detected with Dental X-Rays?

A visual exam is typically performed for your child's first exams. But somewhere around ages 2-3, your dentist will recommend x-rays. Toddlers don't need a full set of x-rays the way older children and adults do. Only 1 x-ray is taken, of bitewing (or hind) teeth. This gives the dentist a good view of the jaw bone and most of the teeth and that view can help in determining problems such as the following:

  • Tooth Crowding: While tooth crowding can be seen with the naked eye, an x-ray gives the dentist a better idea of how the jaw will grow and develop over the next few years. Some spacing between baby teeth is ideal, even at a young age. It means that permanent teeth will have room to grow in. If your dentist can't see spaces just by looking at your toddler, they may want to take an x-ray to look at the bone, determine if it is growing adequately, and compare it to future x-rays to watch its development.
  • Missing Teeth: Missing baby or permanent teeth can be a problem early on because the teeth help support the jaw bone. Without them, the bone could resorb where no baby roots or permanent teeth are helping to keep the jaw's shape. This leads to poor facial development. While there is little you can do for toddlers with this disorder, it's good to catch it early and start exploring restorative options such as braces, implants, or bridges.
  • Decay and Disease: Another important problem that can be indicated through x-rays is decay and disease. Dentists are specifically looking for bone decay and gum disease, as these are not easily indicated with a visual exam. Your health history also plays a big role in this step. If you have a history of gum disease, you should have your child checked for it regularly, as some diseases are genetic. If any bacteria is found in the gums and jaw, action needs to be taken quickly. A deep cleaning – which is mildly invasive to get all bacteria from gums – may be necessary, as well as medicine to prevent continued growth.

How Often Do Your Children Need to have X-Rays Taken?

The necessity of having x-rays done at a young age can be a controversial one. Some people worry about the health risks of x-rays while others feel that they're absolutely necessary to guarantee the health of children. The truth is, if your child is comfortable with sitting in the x-ray chair (pediatric dentists have all sorts of fun, distracting things in the x-ray room for toddlers), then it's a good idea to get them done periodically. The x-ray performed is a very minor one, with minimal amounts of radiation. As long as they are spread out, x-rays shouldn't pose a health concern for your child. A general guideline is that children younger than 5 should have x-rays every 1-2 years while children older than 5 should expect them every 6 months to 1 year.

Getting your toddler to behave at the dentist's office can be challenging enough. If your child isn't ready for x-rays before age 3, you should still be able to catch problems quickly. However, x-rays are useful dental tools in identifying potential problems and should be considered by all parents to confirm the oral health of your toddler.