Digital X-rays constitute one of the most exciting and welcome advances in dental technology. Dental and medical imaging is quickly transitioning from film to digital media, just like the jump to digital imaging in the consumer camera industry. There are several advantages to Digital X-rays which we will go into more detail below. These advantages are less radiation, instant developing, better diagnostic quality, and the elimination of harmful substances like lead and developing solutions which require special handling and disposal because they are environmental pollutants.
To the right are digital sensors; they are the same size and shape as traditional film packets, but are connected to a computer by a cable. The sensors pick up the x-ray image and send it directly to a computer for instantaneous viewing and storage.
We believe the best argument for utilizing Digital X-rays is the reduced amount of radiation exposure required for taking X-rays. Digital X-Rays require 75 to 90 percent less radiation than traditional film. This is because a Digital X-ray sensor is much more sensitive than traditional film and just does not need as much radiation to pick up an image. This is not to say that traditional X-rays are not safe; but if there is a way to avoid uneccesary exposure to radiation it is our duty as dental professionals to provide it for our patients. We are exposed to X-rays every day of our life, mostly from the Sun. Our atmosphere does a pretty good job of blocking most of this harmful radiation, but some does manage to seep through. If you spend a sunny day outdoors, you are absorbing a similar amount of X-ray radiation as used for a full mouth series with traditional film (about 18 individual X-rays). It is accepted by the medical community that the benefits of diagnostic X-rays (the early detection of cavities and abnormalaties) far outweighs the risks associated with exposure to the small amounts of radiation necessary for taking them.
Traditional X-rays require several different chemicals to develop the film. This process is time consuming because the films have to spend time in each solution and then need to dry before they can be viewed. This process generates a lot of waste chemicals which require special handling and disposal since they are toxic. Traditional film packets also contain lead, which also needs to be disposed of properly. Digital X-rays eliminate both the wait (it only takes a few seconds to process an image) and the toxic chemicals associated with traditional film X-rays.
Digital x-rays provide us with much more information and detail than traditional films do. We can view the X-ray at a large size, and use a variety of software tools to enhance the image to show details which would never be visible with traditional film. These software tools help us to detect cavities when they are at an early stage, allowing us to treat them conservatively and eliminating the need for removing excessive tooth structure. Digital X-rays are easily stored and not subject to the degradation and fading which occurs with film. They can easily be sent via e-mail to a specialist, insurance company, or another dental office if need be. Below are shown some examples of Digital X-rays and the software tools we use to aid us in diagnosing problems.