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Digital X-rays: An Overview in Dentistry

Digital X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones and soft tissue. The pictures can provide important information that helps your dentist assess your oral health.

Digital radiography, more commonly known as digital x-rays, is one of the newest X-ray techniques and has become more popular and effective in dentistry. Digital X-rays are an important part of a dental examination, as they provide pictures of the teeth, bones and soft tissues, which help dentists arrive at overall oral health assessments for their patients. X-ray pictures can show cavities, wisdom teeth and bone loss that is not visible during a regular, visual examination. X-rays are also used to identify problems with the teeth, mouth and jaw.

Overview of Digital X-Rays

Instead of X-ray film, digital radiography uses a digital X-ray sensor. The X-rays hit the sensor the same way they hit the traditional film. The dentist is able to see an immediate preview of the image because instead of developing the film, the small sensor unit sends pictures to a computer to be recorded and saved, bypassing chemical processing and saving time. X-rays in dentistry may be classified into intraoral or extraoral. In intraoral digital X-rays, the sensor is placed in the mouth to focus on a small region. In extraoral digital X-rays, the sensor is placed outside the mouth to capture the entire region.

Benefits of Digital X-rays

  • The American Dental Association recommends traditional X-rays only every two to three years for healthy adults. For patients who are concerned about radiation or need X-rays on a regular basis, digital radiography is an excellent alternative. Digital X-rays can reduce radiation by as much as 90 percent, compared to conventional radiography.
  • The image taken can be enhanced and enlarged many times, making it easier for a dentist and patient to identify the problem. Brightness, contrast and color can also be adjusted, allowing a dentist to catch hard-to-see problems.
  • Without taking the time to develop conventional X-ray pictures, patients are experiencing shorter dental appointment times.
  • Software is also available to help dentists compare current images to previous ones. Using subtraction radiography, the dentist has a clear image of only the aspects of the pictures that are different. Tiny changes that may not have been noticeable can be caught earlier and more clearly with subtraction radiography.