Digital dental x-rays offer significant benefits compared to old-fashioned film x-rays

The biggest advantage is that they use 80-90% less radiation compared to film x-rays, which is safer for our patients. Another benefit of digital x-rays is that, in reading the x-ray, the contrast of the image can be altered to better identify findings that might show up faintly at first.

Why Do I Need Dental X-Rays?

we in the dental field hear this question on a daily basis. X-rays are the primary method for diagnosing the majority of conditions we deal with in dentistry including cavities, gum disease, and various types of dental infections.

Bitewing X-Rays

Sometimes referred to as checkup x-rays, bitewing x-rays are the best type of x-ray for diagnosing cavities in between the teeth. If pathology bitewing x-rays are taken once a year cavities can usually be diagnosed and treated while they’re still small, and before they can progress deeper into the tooth. X-rays are also important in helping diagnose gum disease as they can show loss of bone support around the teeth, which is the hallmark of periodontal disease.

What Is A Full Mouth Series X-Ray?

A full mouth series of x-rays is an important set of x-rays typically taken once every five years to show every tooth in the mouth in detail. A full mouth series includes the bitewing x-rays we discussed a moment ago and it’s truly the best way to diagnose cavities, abscess teeth, and bone loss associated with periodontal disease.

Panoramic X-Ray

The Panoramic x-ray is another very important type of dental x-ray. This x-ray shows all the teeth, both upper and lower, jaw bones, the maxillary sinuses, and TMJ’s to name a few. Because this x-ray shows a broader view it can be used for multiple purposes. Sometimes panoramic x-rays are taken on children to show how the adult teeth are developing. They can also be helpful in determining if orthodontic treatment will be needed.

Panoramic x-rays are also the ideal way to visualize impacted wisdom teeth in adolescents and young adults. Panoramic x-rays can even help identify, as an incidental finding, an undiagnosed carotid artery calcification in adult patients that could have potentially led to a stroke!

What About 3D X-Rays (CT Scans)

Another type of imaging that is extremely useful is the 3D x-ray (also known also as a cone beam CT scan or cat scan). Traditional dental x-rays are two-dimensional while a CT scan is three-dimensional. The level of detail that can be visualized with CT Scans is so much higher that there are cases when a patient is complaining of tooth pain, and while there’s no pathology visible (on a traditional 2d x-ray), the problem becomes crystal clear in 3D.

Another primary use of CT scans is in surgical treatment such as dental implants. Since the CT scan offers a 3D view of the patient’s jaws, it is extremely useful in visualizing both the height and width of the site where the implant is to be placed. It’s also great in identifying important anatomical structures such as nerves, blood vessels, sinuses, and irregularities in the bone that will need to be avoided during the implant placement.

In addition to all of the above, the software that accompanies the imaging component allows the treating doctor to perform a virtual surgery prior to performing the surgery. The length and diameter of the implant to be used can be all pre-planned, as well as the angulation, spacing, and depth of placement. This is a huge benefit, as it allows an extremely accurate level of pre-surgical planning.

Not only is it comforting to patients that this degree of planning can be done prior to the surgery, but making all these decisions beforehand greatly reduces the actual surgery time as well!

CT Scans can even be helpful in visualizing complex anatomy inside the tooth prior to doing a root canal!

Dental X-Ray Radiation

One of the objections we frequently hear from patients with regard to taking dental x-rays is that they’re concerned with the radiation exposure. The good news is that our x-ray imaging is completely digital and modern digital x-rays use about 90 percent less radiation than traditional film x-rays. This is a huge difference when you consider, as an example, the radiation exposure from a single dental x-ray is .1 micro sieverts.

To put it into context, eating a banana would give you 0.2 micro sieverts of radiation exposure. So digital dental x-ray radiation is really really minimal. Even CT scans, which are emit a much higher degree of radiation, the radiation exposure is comparable to what you would be exposed to on a cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles.

When you put it all into context, realizing that there is radiation all around us everywhere all the time, it really lessens the concern about exposure to dental x-rays!

For even more information check out our blog that contains additional information regarding digital x-ray and their safety!