An Insight on Dental Imaging Systems by a Dentist

In the modern world, it is almost impossible to imagine a dental practice without x-ray technology. Dental x-rays are the most advanced diagnostic tools in dentistry that help to identify and check the progression of tooth infection. Traditional dental x-rays have been in use for a very long time. However, with evolvement in dental practice, digital radiographs have gained substantial popularity.

Digital dental imaging is a new generation technology that uses a small electronic sensor placed in the mouth. These sensors instantly capture the image and project it on a computer screen. One of the prime advantages of digital imaging is that it significantly reduces the amount of radiation exposure to the patient. Moreover, they provide images faster than traditional x-ray development.

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Like any other dental x-ray, digital imaging is used to diagnose a wide variety of dental conditions such as tooth decay, abscess, gum disease, bone loss, and orthodontic evaluation. Today’s article will highlight some of the benefits of digital imaging in dentistry. Furthermore, we will discuss several factors, such as the use, cost, and safety of digital imaging in dentistry.

What is dental digital imaging?

Digital imaging, also known as a digital x-ray, is an advancement in the field of radiography. Digital imaging typically uses an electronic sensor that represents an x-ray film in traditional radiography. The sensor is placed inside the mouth to capture the image projected by the radiation exposure. (1)

Unlike the conventional x-rays that need to be developed to reveal the image, digital x-rays instantly show the image on a computer screen. Moreover, they can be stored easily in the patient’s record. Usually, the implementation of digital imaging requires specialized training. Some of the training considerations include periodic safety updates, training in new equipment, supplies, techniques, and infection control.

What are the benefits of digital imaging?

Some of the key benefits of digital imaging include the following –

  • They can reveal even the smallest hidden areas of tooth decay between teeth or below an existing restoration.
  • The image can be viewed instantly on a computer screen. Moreover, the image can be manipulated to enhance the contrast, enlarge the size, or even see minute details. (2)
  • Digital records of images can be easily transmitted electronically to specialists without compromising the quality of the x-ray.
  • It is eco-friendly as it eliminates chemical processing and disposal of hazardous wastes.
  • Digital imaging requires 50%-80% less radiation than a traditional film.
  • Some digital imaging technologies offer features such as colorizing, sharpness, zoom, 3-D, and contrast. It helps in better detection and interpretation of the dental condition. (3)
  • The follow-up images can be easily compared to the previous photos to check the rate of healing or disease progression.

What are the disadvantages of digital imaging?

While digital-imaging may be considered as technological advancement in the field of dentistry, there are certain disadvantages associated in the following ways –

  • Additional training may be required to implement the digital radiography in a dental practice. (4)
  • Some digital sensors may be thick and bulky than traditional films, which may cause discomfort and increase the risk of gagging. (5)
  • The size of the digital sensors is small as compared to conventional x-ray film, which may cover less image area.
  • Most digital sensors cannot be sterilized, and therefore, they require protective plastic barriers that need to change between patients.

What is the use of digital x-rays in dentistry?

Digital imaging contributes significantly to diagnosing dental conditions. It helps to reveal valuable information that is otherwise not visible to the naked eye. Moreover, the features of digital imaging help the dentist to enhance the area of concern and view it in a 3-D dimension. Some of the indications of digital dental radiography are listed below –

  • Diagnose tooth decay between teeth
  • Identification of tooth abscess or cyst
  • Check the progression of gum disease and associated bone loss
  • Diagnose developmental abnormalities
  • Check weak tooth and root positions in the jaw

How safe are digital dental x-rays?

One of the key advantages of using digital dental x-rays is minimal radiation exposure. Ideally, digital imaging reduces the patient’s radiation exposure by up to 90% as compared to traditional x-ray imaging. However, universal precautions may still be followed to protect the patient from the radiation. (6)

The precautions usually include the use of lead apron shields to protect the body and thyroid collar to protect the neck. Additionally, digital imaging is faster and more comfortable to take, which reduces the appointment time and enhances positive patient experience.

The frequency of digital imaging depends on the type of dental condition, the progression of the disease, and the necessity to follow up. Pregnant patients are exempted from digital imaging at least till their third trimester. (7)

What is the cost of digital dental imaging?

For patients

Typically, a digital dental x-ray may cost around $10 for a single film to $250 for a full mouth scan. Most dental insurance covers the cost of digital dental imaging. In some cases, you may have to co-pay an amount of $5 – $50.

For dentists

To set up a digital imaging system in the dental office, an estimated budget may range from $11,000 to $15,000 for a wired system. A wireless system may be slightly above this price range, which is around $20,000 to $50,000.

Take away message

Digital imaging is a unique system of radiography that uses electronic sensors to capture the image of the selected area and project it on a computer screen.

A downfall is that the dentists and dental staff may have to undergo specialized training to implement the digital system and periodically update their knowledge to effectively use the technology. Moreover, the high upfront cost of installation may be a disadvantage.

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However, there are multiple advantages of digital imaging that are worth the money. Some benefits of digital imaging include faster results, better quality, easy manipulation, electronic storage, and transmission of data.

One of the major benefits of using a digital imaging system is that it significantly reduces radiation exposure to patients. This makes digital imaging as one of the safest options in the field of dental radiography.

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