We can’t afford x-rays every six months

I take my two kids, ages four and six, to the pediatric dentist for check-ups every six months. Without fail, they take x-rays every single time. This concerns me for two reasons: 1) the amount of radiation they’re being exposed to, and 2) I’m paying for two sets of x-rays a year out-of-pocket because our insurance only covers x-rays once a year. Are these really necessary? If they were, I would think that insurance companies would pay for it. I asked about it last time I was in and they shrugged me off and basically said that’s just what they do, but I’m really bothered by the whole thing. We’re coming up on their next visit and I’m thinking about telling them not to do it this time. Will this get me in trouble with the practice? — Rachelle

Dear Rachelle,
It’s not abnormal for a pediatric dentist to want to do x-rays every six months, even though the standard is generally every twelve. Some kids are especially prone to decay or are in high-risk groups, and so being extra vigilant and watching for decay can mean all the difference in the world between your child needing a small filling or having to have a tooth crowned. It’s unclear whether this is their general rule or if they are considering your kids high-risk patients (they likely would have informed you of that), but it’s within the realm of reason for every patient to be treated this way.

In regard to the radiation, today’s digital x-rays are often no more dangerous than standing outside in the sun for a few minutes. Some studies put them at up to 80% less than traditional film x-rays, which have already come way down in terms of exposure over the years. Even still, the pediatric dentist should be taking protective measures, like placing a lead apron over your kids when the x-rays are taken.

Insurance companies don’t always care what’s best, but rather for what’s “adequate.” There’s little doubt in the minds of the public today that white fillings are generally better than silver ones, though there are a few exceptions. However, insurance companies still only pay for the cost of a silver filling in most cases, simply because it’s “good enough.” Please do not let the insurance company’s standards dictate what’s best, unless you’re genuinely ok with adequate treatment, rather than doing what’s best.

Each pediatric dentist has his own guidelines in regard to how he handles patient care. There are some who will dismiss a patient from their practice if they feel like they can’t provide a proper standard of care based on the restrictions a patient sets forth. On the x-ray issue, this probably isn’t a big enough deal to warrant a dismissal, but it will be up to the office. You may want to speak to the pediatric dentist, himself, and respectfully voice your concerns and hear what he has to say.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Alana Macalik. For more information on the services she provides, visit her Arlington cosmetic dentist website.