Dental X-ray images, also known as dental radiographs, are one of the most important pieces of equipment a dentist has for keeping teeth, gums and mouth healthy. A dental X-ray allows dentists to detect problems that are not visible to the naked eye, such as cracks in fillings, decay in between teeth and bone loss. Dental x-rays are also vital when planning dental work such as root canals and dental implants. Although their usage hasn’t changed throughout the years, their technology has. X-rays no longer just use film, like everything else in this modern age, it has gone digital. Instead of taking the x-ray and then developing the film like in the past, the x-ray can now be seen almost instantly on a computer screen. We dive further into these changes and what it means.

What’s Changed?
The main differences between digital dental X-rays and film X-rays are their ease of use. In digital radiography, the film is replaced with a flat electronic pad or digital dental x-ray sensor. This sensor receives the X-rays in much the same way as a film does, but instead of developing the film in a dark room, the digital dental X-ray sensor sends the image directly to a computer where it appears on the screen. As well as the speed and convenience of this process, one of the major advantages of digital dental X-rays is that a computer can digitally compare an image to previous images. This process allows a computer to subtract everything out that is the same in two images, only leaving anything that is different. The process is known as subtraction radiography and is capable of highlighting the tiniest of changes, so that a dentist can intervene at an early stage.

Radiation Difference
When used properly, digital X-rays use about half the radiation of conventional film. Radiation is measured in units called Sieverts, named after Rolf Sievert, a highly revered medical physicist known for his work on measuring radiation dosage. The radiation dose received from dental x-rays is measured in micro Sieverts. A regular dental X-ray exposes the patient to roughly 10 micro Sieverts of radiation.  If the dentist is using an old-style dental film, then more radiation is needed and that number can climb to around 22 micro Sieverts.  If the dentist is using a newer-style digital x-ray unit that has a rectangular end instead of the round end, then the radiation dose decreases drastically to around two to five micro Sieverts. To help you relate these numbers to your life, the background radiation that someone living in the United States receives per day is around nine micro Sieverts.

Film Vs. Digital

Benefits of Digital Radiography
• The X-ray is immediately processed and available to view, where film takes time to be developed.
• Less radiation needed to produce the same quality image as film (digital X-rays gives 70 percent less exposure to radiation than conventional X-rays).
• You can enhance the digital image (such as alter brightness and contrast) with a series of processing techniques
• Digital archiving—the ability to store images on a computer.
• Produces larger photos to better source hard-to-see cavities.
• Digital radiography, though expensive to buy initially, is cheaper and more environmentally friendly in the long run.
• Grey-scale of digital X-rays offers 256 shades of grey versus 16-25 shades in conventional radiography.

Benefits of Film Radiography
• Offers excellent picture quality
• Most dentists’ offices are still equipped with conventional radiography equipment, which is perfectly usable and saves money to not change.
• Film sensors are less thick and rigid than digital sensors, thus offering the patient better comfort when the X-ray sensors go into their mouths.
• There is no extra training required to use conventional X-ray machines, as it is standard in most dental offices.
• Unlike digital X-ray sensors that must use plastic disinfectant covers, conventional film sensors can withstand heat sterilization.
• Film X-ray photos cannot be altered, whereas digital ones can. Possibility of alteration exposes digital radiography to fraudulent use and legal issues.

If you have any questions about x-rays and your teeth, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.