The trend for refusing dental X-rays at the dental cleaning appointment has increased over the past few years due to public concern that they are unsafe.

Many point to the radiation involved and deem all X-rays as unnecessary, bad and unhealthy due to this radiation exposure.

Dentists, however, use X-rays (known as radiographs) as a vital tool to examine, diagnose and treat patients quickly and effectively.

Therefore, without radiographs, it is difficult or impossible to properly diagnose and treat patients.

Using radiographs as a tool to improve and maintain health is why their safety is not a black-and-white argument but rather places them in a gray area.

While radiation exposure is not ideal, the amount of ionizing radiation a person is exposed to with routine radiographs at a dental appointment is the same as living on Earth for one day.

This everyday radiation is called background radiation.

It comes from cosmic sources (the sun and stars, like a steady drizzle of rain), terrestrial sources (soil), and radioactive isotopes (radon in the air).

Even foods, brick houses and drinking water have radiation in them.

Knowing that background radiation is impossible to avoid, the dental profession strives to keep additional exposure to a minimum.

Our office follows the ALARA principle, an acronym for the guideline that radiation should be kept to “as low as reasonably achievable.”

We shield our patients with lead aprons and lead thyroid collars; we use digital radiographs, which use much less radiation than old film radiographs; and we take only routine radiographs in accordance with the American Dental Association recommendations.

Without radiographs in the dental field, cavities, diseases and infections would not be found or located.

A more serious concern would be the inability to find bone lesions and pathology that can compromise a person’s overall health, not just their oral health.

Keeping patients safe and healthy are top priorities at our office, and we welcome all patients to discuss any concerns, including radiation, that they might have with their health or the care they receive.

We know the pros and cons associated with radiation and strive to use it only when it would benefit the patient.

Jessica M. Gower, D.M.D. practices general dentistry at Palmetto Dental Arts, P.A. where the focus is on comprehensive dental care.