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Children's Health

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X-Rays, Scans, Radiation, and Kids

What Parents Need to Know Before the Doctor or Dentist Orders a Scan

What Parents Can Do

There are simple things parents can do to make sure that their kids only get the imaging tests when it's really necessary.

Ask questions. Here are the four questions parents should always ask, according to Marilyn J. Goske, MD, a pediatric radiologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center:

  1. Does this test use radiation?
  2. Why is this exam being done?
  3. How is it going to help my child?
  4. Are there alternatives that don't use ionizing radiation, like an ultrasound?

Goske helped to create "Image Gently," a campaign to educate parents and doctors about the risks of radiation.

Consider going to a children's hospital. If a scan is necessary, and you have time to choose where to go to get it, consider going to a children's hospital. Pediatric facilities are more likely to adjust the scanner to deliver a child-sized dose of radiation.

Keep records. Write down each scan your child gets, where he got it, and the date.

It's also a good idea to keep a copy of the scan. That keeps tests from being unnecessarily repeated if a child gets seen at more than one hospital within a short period of time.

Check on the dentist's office. Kids are likely to get regular X-rays at dental check-ups. When used appropriately, experts say the risk from those X-rays is probably low.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that kids and teens get bitewing X-rays every six to 12 months if they have cavities. Those who don't have cavities can go a year or two between scans.

Cone-beam CTs are mainly used by oral surgeons and orthodontists. They deliver doses of radiation that are far higher than regular dental X-rays, but lower than the doses patients get from medical CTs, says Joel Berg, DDS, dean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry and president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Berg says cone-beam CTs are best used in cases where there's been trauma to the jaw or to help dentists correctly position implants. For routine check-ups, an ordinary X-ray may be all that's needed, with less radiation exposure.

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Reviewed on August 16, 2012

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