What Are Digital X-Rays? Are They Safer Than Film X-Rays?

Panoramic x-ray of mouth missing a tooth

Dental x-rays are an important tool for dentists to track your oral health and identify potential issues, like the spreading of gum disease. But many patients have concerns in regards to the technology and dental radiation safety.  Questions like “is radiation from x-rays dangerous” or “what are digital x-rays?” are very common among patients.

We’ll answer some of your questions and help shed light on this standard practice in dentistry to keep your mouth healthy and happy.

Is X-Ray Radiation Dangerous?

Before we dive into the types of x-rays, let’s talk about the most common question when it comes to getting x-rays. Yes, it’s true that high doses of radiation are a cause for concern, and it’s also true that x-rays cause radiation exposure. However, the extremely low dose of radiation falls well under any risk level and is safe for all ages from adults to children. The only exception to this is women who are pregnant, as the radiation is not considered safe for the developing baby.

The reality is that the average person is exposed to between 360 to 620 millirems (a unit of radiation dosage) per year without much concern, primarily from nature. This comes from various sources such as radon in the air, food with trace amounts of radiation, and even high-altitude flight! By comparison, a typical dental x-ray only exposes you to about 2-3 millirems, which is definitely not cause for you to worry.

Typically, you will only need to be x-rayed on an as-needed basis. Regular dental cleanings, which are key to proper preventative care for your oral health, often include a digital x-ray if your current x-rays are outdated or if we see a cause for concern. Even if you needed x-rays every 6 months for your dental health visit, the radiation would be negligible!

X-Rays: From Film to Digital

Dental x-rays have traditionally been performed using film, and this system has been in use for decades. Did you know that x-ray technology was originally discovered in 1895? If you’re familiar with older film photography, the process has some similarities, particularly in the act of developing the final photograph, which can be a time-consuming process.

And since you’re familiar with film photography, you can probably guess what happened next: digital came along. The shift from film x-rays to digital x-rays brought with it a lot of benefits, for both the patient and the dentist!

  • Instant results. Digital x-rays are viewable within seconds, versus the time it can take to develop results from a traditional film x-ray.
  • Significantly lower radiation exposure. Digital x-rays can result in up to 70-80% lower doses of radiation versus film. Remember, even film x-rays are safe, so this significant decrease is great news for anyone still worried about the effects of radiation exposure.
  • Easier to examine. Digital photography is easy to pull up on a large screen, zoom in, and even adjust. Sometimes shifts in brightness or contrast can help your dental health professional identify underlying issues that would not be feasible with film-based x-rays.
  • Easier to archive. Digital records are far easier to access and backup. It’s much less likely to lose older x-rays, which can reduce the frequency you need x-rayed and makes it easier for dentists to compare your x-rays over time.
  • Environmentally-friendly. Digital x-rays don’t require using chemicals for development or film, so they can be completed with fewer materials and waste.

Ultimately, digital x-rays offer significant improvements over film-based x-rays. That’s not to say film x-rays have lost their place, though. You’re just as likely to find film x-ray machines as you are to find digital ones at the dentist. Digital offers a lot of convenience, but film x-ray machines still do their job just fine!

What Are Panoramic X-Rays?

Panoramic x-rays, also known as panoramic radiography, are a specific type of x-ray that is done entirely outside of the mouth. While many patient x-rays are designed to help identify cavities and other conditions in the mouth, sometimes it’s necessary to take a larger image of the entire mouth at once with a panoramic x-ray. This is used to spot problems such as bone abnormalities, issues with tooth positioning, or oral cancer.

In addition to offering your dentist a full picture of your mouth at once, panoramic x-rays come with a host of benefits. For one, the machines for these types of x-rays are much less invasive. They do not require the patient to bite down on anything, nor do they require multiple x-rays, allowing them to be completed quickly. Panoramic x-rays are also good for children for the same reason, as all they’re required to do is remain still for just a few seconds. Radiation dosage can be lower as well, since these types of x-rays are done once instead of needing multiple angles.


Contact Walbridge Dental

X-rays are an important part of keeping your smile healthy! From routine cleaning and exams to advanced restorative treatments to oral cancer detection, the professionals at Walbridge Dental provide complete family dental care to families in the Millbury community. Contact us online to set up an appointment now or call us at 419-836-1033.

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