Cosmetic Dentistry Technology Digital Dental Xrays

Digital X-rays are a new dental X-ray method that takes digital pictures of the teeth and bones in the mouth. X-rays play a key role in dental examinations, aiding the diagnosis and treatment of dental problems.

A full set of 14 to 21 X-rays are usually required for new dental patients or patients who need extensive treatment. Follow-up X-rays are necessary every six months to three years, depending on the patient.

How Digital X-Rays Work

Digital X-rays are easier and more comfortable to take than traditional X-rays. With digital X-rays, a technician glides a small electronic sensor inside a patient’s mouth. The sensor sends digital images to a computer in the exam room where they can be viewed and saved.

The digital X-ray method is a major improvement from conventional X-ray techniques in which the patient is required to bite down on small plates of plastic or cardboard. The plates house X-ray film and cause a majority of patients to gag. The next step in traditional x-rays is to then have a noisy x-ray machine take the shots of the patient’s mouth. This is repeated several times to get views of the patient’s entire mouth.

The digital X-ray images themselves are similar to conventional X-ray images but can be enlarged and manipulated on the screen. This gives dentists and patients a better idea of what’s going on in the patient’s mouth. Traditional X-ray images are about the size of a postage stamp.

Uses of Digital X-Rays

Digital X-rays, like traditional dental X-rays, have many uses. Digital X-rays reveal:

  • abscesses
  • bone loss from periodontal disease (gum disease)
  • cavities
  • cysts
  • extra teeth
  • impacted teeth
  • tumors.

Digital X-rays can also help determine the condition of:

  • bridges
  • crowns
  • fillings
  • root canals.

Digital X-Ray Pros

Digital X-rays have several advantages over traditional dental X-rays. Advantages include:

  • ability to use color contrast in the image
  • no film or processing chemicals
  • three-second image production
  • up to 80 percent less radiation (although patients must still wear a lead apron).

The main disadvantage of digital X-rays is the upfront costs for dentists. Digital X-rays cost 3 to 5 times more than conventional X-rays. Software and sensors needed for digital X-rays typically cost between $10,000 and $20,000. Despite the initial costs, digital X-rays save money in the long term because they cut out X-ray film and the costs associated with development chemicals.

Also, patients will not see a rise in cost. Because insurance companies typically cover digital X-rays, out-of-pocket costs are usually the same as those for conventional X-rays.

Digital X-Ray Cons

Some dentists do not believe that the advantages of digital X-rays outweigh the extra cost because:

  • Conventional X-ray images develop in 15 seconds, which is not a major difference when compared to digital image production.
  • Digital X-rays do not provide a better image than conventional X-rays.
  • Some dentists do not believe digital X-rays reduce radiation. Even if digital methods did reduce radiation exposure, conventional X-ray radiation exposure is low and harmless.

Digital X-rays are the next step in improving patient health and well-being. As digital X-ray technology becomes cheaper and awareness of digital X-rays increases, more dentist offices will start using digital X-rays.


Futuredontics, Inc. (n.d.). Dental X-Rays and Digital Technology. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from the Web site.

Nissl, Jan (2006). Dental X-rays. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from the WebMD Web site.

Rundle, Rhonda, L. (2005). Dental X-Rays Get Easier. Retrieved April 13, 2008, from the Web site.