Thursday, January 3, 2013

Are dental x-rays safe for children?

This was originally published on Families in the Loop.

I am a difficult parent. It’s the only conclusion I can come to now that I’m in a stalemate with our dental office. Don’t get me wrong. Our dentist is very nice. I also like that she has an all-female staff. I think it’s important for our twin daughters to see that women can be anything they want to be, from dentist to receptionist.

The issue with has to do with X-rays. I strongly feel that our daughters shouldn’t be exposed to unnecessary X-rays, while her office believes we should have as many as the insurance company will pay for as part of our yearly benefits. I don’t think that money should be a determining factor in the number of X-rays my daughters receive. And I’m fairly certain her office wouldn’t be so keen to X-ray our girls if the insurance company didn’t willingly pay for the procedure.

Dental X-rays are a hot topic among parents. When you talk to other parents, you realize you aren’t alone with your concerns about the long-term effects of X-rays on children. While official organizations continue to state that dental X-rays for children are safe, many investigations are still being made and the jury’s still out.

In Radiation in the Dentist Chair, the author details the questionable safety research and excess radiation related to the cone-beam CT scanner. Unfortunately, I read this piece after allowing one of our girls to have the procedure done. We were barely inside the office when our dentist told me that she was worried about our daughter’s teeth coming in correctly. She said she had a new machine, the cone-beam CT scanner, that could show her what was going on with our daughter’s teeth, and our daughter was in the scanner before I had time to ask for time to do some research first.

Another New York Times article, Radiation Worries for Children in Dentists’ Chairs, did little to calm my nerves. This piece outlines parents’ concerns about radiation and talks about alternative ways to take pictures of teeth. Once I realized so many other dentists were using methods that didn’t push any radiation into their patients, my concerns grew.

Of course, as with so much medical research, conflicting information abounds. Most reputable medical organizations do not think X-rays should cause patients concern. Still, now that we know radiation exposure is cumulative over a lifetime, why expose our children to any more than is medically necessary?

I don’t know what the answer is for our girls. Perhaps we’re creating long-term dental problems by limiting the number of dental X-rays they receive each year. Or perhaps we’re saving them from unnecessary radiation exposure. It’s hard to say at this point. Yet given the uncertainty of the research, I am more comfortable limiting their X-ray exposure than I am allowing the dentist to X-ray at will. If only I could get our dentist’s staff on board with my thinking.


eatmisery said...

My son is almost 8yo and he's had a full set of x-rays once and a set of bite wings once. My daughter is 6yo and she's only ever had one full set of x-rays done. I can't imagine doing x-rays every year. That seems ridiculous. We have HMO insurance, which does not pay anything for our pediatric dentist. We pay out of pocket. Do you have HMO or PPO? I have yet to take our 3yo twins to the dentist. I just know that we aren't bombarded with x-rays, but that might be because we're HMO dental. It costs a fortune for the older two, just for check-ups and cleanings. X-rays are incredibly expensive when you visit a pediatric dentist and NONE of them take HMO.

Christina said...

Stay away from the xray. John's teeth ARE coming in crooked and his dentist just says that if he needs an extender (the opposite of headgear, it makes the jaw bigger) we will look at it next year and we will put it in then. Heads grow. He has never suggested an x-ray of my child...ever.
This is why I love my dentist.