Many dental offices still use traditional x-rays due to the cost involved in upgrading equipment and training for their staff. Our North Vancouver dental office uses modern technology, including digital x-rays to provide benefits to patients such as reduced exposure to radiation and quicker processing times.
Benefits of Digital X-Rays
- Digital images are ready to view immediately compared to film radiography that requires time to develop the images.
- Digital sensors are more sensitive to radiation and therefore require less radiation. Patients are exposed to around 70 – 90% less radiation compared to traditional x-rays.
- If any images need to be re-done because the patient moved or a different angle is needed, the patient doesn’t need to worry about overexposure to radiation.
- Digital images are higher resolution and include a much wider greyscale. They can be enhanced as needed to view more detail, e.g. by adjusting brightness, contrast, and zoom levels for hard to see areas.
- The x-ray images are saved electronically in a digital patient file so they are easy to reference and can also be sent to other dental or specialist offices quickly and easily for referrals.
- Digital x-rays eliminate chemical processing and disposal of hazardous materials making them a more environmentally friendly solution.
Disadvantages of Digital X-Rays
- Some of the sensors are thicker and bulkier compared to conventional machines, which can cause mild discomfort to the patient for intra-oral x-rays (inside the mouth).
- Digital sensors capture a smaller area compared to traditional x-rays, so additional images may be required.
- Digital equipment is more fragile and most sensors and plates cannot be sterilized with heat so protective plastic barriers must be used instead to prevent contamination.
Are Dental X-Rays Necessary?
Dental x-rays assist with diagnosing oral health issues. Since x-rays provide visibility to areas inside the teeth, between the teeth, and below existing restorations, tooth decay can be detected much earlier than if you waited for more prominent symptoms to appear. X-rays can also reveal issues such as abscesses or cysts, bone infections, and tumors that are not always visible during a dental exam. Digital x-rays are especially effective because the images can be manipulated and enhanced to view more detail and aid in early detection. When issues are treated early it saves time, money, and discomfort compared to waiting until the problems get worse and more invasive treatment is needed.
How to Limit Exposure to Radiation and X-Rays
In the big picture, dental x-rays account for a very small portion of the overall radiation that an average person is exposed to. A set of x-rays accounts for less that 0.5% of the radiation that an average North American is exposed to from the environment. Even though radiation is even lower with digital x-rays, there is no need for overexposure, and x-rays should only be used when needed. Patients should always be provided with protective lead aprons and thyroid collars. If you are pregnant you may choose to postpone x-rays until after the baby is born, but if an x-ray is required during pregnancy it is not considered unsafe when wearing a protective apron.
It is a common concern that exposure to radiation can be linked to health problems such as an increased risk of cancer. The frequency of dental x-rays should be determined in consultation with your family dentist. It should generally be as low as reasonably possible while still achieving the benefits of early detection in diagnosing oral health issues before they become more serious.