The switch from traditional (film) dental x-rays to digital radiography is much like the transition that occurred back in the 1990's when people switched from film to digital cameras.
At Inspire Dental, we utilize digital radiography and have completely phased-out conventional film because it offers a number of technical, environmental and clinical benefits. First, and possibly foremost, is the aspect of patient education. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one below, quite possibly says it all! Do you think the patient here, can see what their dentist is trying to show them?
There is a great value in you as a patient being able to 'see' and understand what the conditions are, and thus why you may require treatment. It is therefore one of the most important benefits to digital radiography, having images "larger-than-life" on a computer screen, to allow the dentist to show and teach their patients about what can be seen in a dental radiograph.
Another advantage is time savings! The fact that your dental hygienist, after exposure will not have to take a film out of your mouth then put it in a film processor, wait for it to be developed, then mount each in a film holder... translates into less time spent in the dental chair for you as a patient. Within seconds of an exposure, the image of your teeth appears on-screen and your practitioner will know whether they captured the information that is needed.
Whereas film requires a processor, and chemicals such as developer, fixer and various other maintenance solutions, digital radiography has no such requirements. A digital sensor also requires significantly less radiation to create a diagnostic quality image (50-90% less depending on what type of film you are comparing it to), so it's safer, to you as a patient.
The other major difference between digital radiography and conventional film is more technical, but it makes a big difference to you as a patient. The idea here is that the human eye can only distinguish 10-15 shades of grey when they're lined up side, by side. A computer program can be more discerning, capturing 256+ shades. While the overall diagnostic quality of a digital image is equal to that of film, software and enhancements offer the clinician tools which can help distinguish subtleties in the shades of grey to aid in the diagnosis of tooth decay (dental caries.) The advantage, is that your dentist will catch problems earlier and more often, before they turn into conditions that cause tooth pain or require more advanced treatment such as root canals or extractions.
The advantages are numerous. The advantages for the patient include a reduction in radiation and improved patient education capabilities. The biggest advantage to the patient is that, when an image is taken, they're able to see it immediately on a monitor. It's a 17-inch image instead of an image just more than one inch that you have to view through a view box or through the light in the operatory. This enables better communication since the doctor can make specific points while the patient comfortably sees his/her condition...
If you were to compare an excellent film image to an excellent digital image, the digital image would still have a lot more diagnostic information available. We have tools that allow us to electronically enhance the image. We're not changing the image so we're not putting in something or seeing something that's not there. Instead, we're able to focus on the different tissues of interest. It is a marvelous tool and the diagnostic applications are phenomenal.
- Dr. Dr. Claudio Levato, Dental Economics Dental Economics Vol. 94, Issue 12