Ways to limit your child’s X-ray exposure

When it comes to kids and X-rays, the less exposure to ionizing radiation the better, says Dr. Helene Pavlov, radiologist-in-chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, which specializes in treating skeletal and muscular injuries. “Growing tissue may be more sensitive to the exposure,” says Pavlov, who suggests parents pose the following questions to their medical provider if their child ever needs X-rays, CT scans or other ionizing medical imaging:

  • Does the hospital or imaging center emphasize ALARA, the acronym for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” with regard to ionizing radiation exposure?
  • Can the X-ray or scan be replaced by a non-ionizing radiation imaging examination, such as an MRI or an ultrasound?
  • Has the technique been adjusted to the size of your child and will your child be shielded from additional exposure, by confining the area being exposed?
  • What’s the center’s repeat rate-how often an image needs to be repeated because of excessive motion, incorrect positioning or improper technique? If there’s a high repeat rate, Pavlov suggests parents may want to choose a different imaging center.
  • How many pediatric patients does the center see? The higher this percentage, the more experience the team has in acquiring the image correctly on the first try.

When it comes to dental visits, Pavlov says X-rays shouldn’t be a routine part of an annual or semi-annual exam. If there’s a specific area of concern, ask if the X-ray can be limited to a specific tooth or area instead of a full mouth X-ray.

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