What is Digital Dental Radiography?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Dentists and dental hygienists use a type of technology called digital dental radiography to examine teeth. Digital dental radiography works through a sensor and a computer to take images of a patient's overall dental structure. At least two basic types of dental imaging exist in dentistry. Cost and size are some of the concerns of owning this specialized X-ray film scanner. Digital radiography has grown in popularity because of its eco-friendliness and reduced exposure to radiation among other advantages.

Digital dental radiography consists of a computer and monitor, an electronic sensor, and an X-ray film scanner. These components work together, along with imaging software and a recorder, to generate computerized images of a person's dental makeup. Dental imaging helps dental professionals obtain a comprehensive view of the gums, bone, teeth, and root canals to examine the health of the patient's mouth.

Types of computer imaging systems that rely on digital dental radiography include intraoral and extraoral. Intraoral-based dental imaging gives several details of the roots, crowns, and other aspects of the teeth to determine whether they're healthy or diseased. Extraoral dental X-rays take pictures from the outside of the mouth, also known as getting "the big picture." In addition to the teeth, extraoral X-rays look at the skull and the jaw to check for problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).


Dental professionals obtain digital dental images through three methods. The direct method involves placing an electronic sensor into the mouth to record the image. With the indirect technique, the dentist or dental assistant operates an X-ray film scanner to view dental radiographs as digital images. Semi-indirect digital image acquisition requires a scanner and a phosphorus-coated sensor to convert dental X-rays into digital film.

Despite the advantages of digital dental radiography, practical concerns still arise. For example, the average cost to buy a fully equipped digital system costs is approximately $10,000 U.S. Dollars (USD). Some of the sensor equipment also appears bulkier than dental film, making it uncomfortable for some patients who are prone to gag easily. Adhering to upkeep and cleanliness guidelines are additional issues. Digital dental radiography machines are harder to sterilize and usually require protective plastic barriers that must be changed often to prevent infections.

Digital dental radiography is often lauded for its purported benefits. The process is best known for being environmentally safe because no processing chemicals or silver salts are required. Electronic sensors on the digital dental radiography device need less radiation, which means less harmful exposure. Efficiency tends to be another quality of digital radiography because the image can be transferred more quickly to the computer monitor. The dental imaging equipment also provides visibility features like 3-D, colorization, and magnification to help with an accurate diagnosis.


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