The world’s first introduction to radiology, which involves the process known as X-rays, came in 1895 from German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen. Many have seen Röntgen’s first X-ray photograph of his wife’s hand, donning a ring. Since this breakthrough achievement, medical radiography has only continued to exceed technological boundaries.
Like many film mediums, including photography and movie making, radiography has gradually been making the switch to digital from conventional film. While digital radiography is more common to see in hospitals and dental hygienist schools, many dentist offices still use film radiography. The most common reason why dentistry and small doctor’s offices have not converted to digital radiography is due to the cost and labour put into installing new machines and training staff on their usage. However, if we are to compare the two, there are quite a few benefits to digital radiography, specifically for a dentist’s office.
Benefits of Digital Radiography
- The film is immediately processed and available to view, whereas film takes time to be developed.
- Less radiation needed to produce the same quality image as film (digital X-rays gives 70% less exposure to radiation than conventional X-rays).
- You can enhance the digital image (such as alter brightness and contrast) with a series of processing techniques
- Digital archiving—the ability to store images on a computer.
- Digital radiography produces larger photos to better source hard-to-see cavities
- Digital radiography, though expensive to buy initially, is cheaper and more environmentally friendly in the long run
- Grey-scale of digital X-rays offers 256 shades of grey versus 16-25 shades in conventional radiography.
Particular benefits of digital radiography for the dentist’s office include improved comfort of intra-oral (photos taken inside the mouth) X-rays, performed by intra-oral dental assistants, and less cranial exposure to radiation. Digital images are also easily stored on a computer and can be transferred to different dentists or orthodontists for referrals. Despite this, there are still certain benefits offered by film radiography, which is why so many dentist offices maintain their older machines.
Benefits of Film Radiography
- Offers excellent picture quality
- Most dentists’ office are still equipped with conventional radiography equipment, which is perfectly usable and saves money to not change.
- Film sensors are less thick and rigid than digital sensors, thus offering the patient better comfort when the X-ray sensors go into their mouths.
- There is no extra training required to use conventional X-ray machines, as it is standard in most dental offices.
- Unlike digital X-ray sensors which must use plastic disinfectant covers, conventional film sensors can withstand heat sterilization.
- Film X-ray photos cannot be altered, whereas digital ones can. Possibility of alteration exposes digital radiography to fraudulent use and legal issues.
Digital radiography is still slowly being adapted by dentist offices, but a greater change may soon be coming, with much dental hygienist training teaching the digital process. However, specialists have claimed that there are benefits and disadvantages to both methods of radiography. One does not produce superior image quality over the other. It is more a question of the money willing to be spent, the type of comfort an office chooses to provide its patients, and the level of training undertaken by dental hygienists and assistants.