Digital X-Rays and Orthodontics

The first analog x-ray was produced by the German physicist, Wilhelm Roentgen, in 1895. He made an X-ray of his wife’s hand showing her ring as an opaque object.

Expanding use of the digital x-ray.

X-rays were quickly adopted for medical use and medical x-ray technology has continued to improve. The original analog x-ray techniques produce images on photographic paper that blackens to generate an image in proportion to the level of exposure to x-ray radiation. Now, the medical and dental fields are gradually making the transition to digital x-ray technology that uses not conventional x-ray sensitive photographic film or paper, but x-ray sensitive tablets that generate images digitally, like a digital camera and transmit those images to computers.

Progress in X-Ray Technology represented by digital x-rays.

The digital x-ray offers some important advantages over the analog x-ray.

  • There is no need to chemically develop the image. It is immediately available for use and can be transmitted to any number of computers and stored electronically immediately.
  • X-ray sensitive digital tablets are 70 percent more sensitive than x-ray sensitive analog film. That means you need less than half the amount of x-ray exposure to make an image.
  • Digital x-rays can be immediately enhanced to generate greater contrast, brightness, and sharpness using image-enhancing software. Conventional x-ray images are limited to the film they are made on and can’t be enhanced.
  • Digital x-ray technology can produce larger images to make cavities and other dental surfaces easier to see.
  • Conventional x-ray film is relatively high contrast, lower “dynamic range,” more shadow-like. The film can only be seen in 15 to 20 shades of grey. The digital tablet is less shadow-like generating 256 shades of grey.

Digital x-ray gives the orthodontist or dentist greater clarity.

The conventional x-ray “negative” image is on the very small surface of a film that is placed in the “bite-wing” film placed in the patient’s mouth. This is the image that is used by the dentist when he or she makes the conventional x-ray. Enlargements must be made using extra equipment which magnifies film grain and other distortion along with the image itself. The digital x-ray is produced using flat digital sensors which are essentially flat x-ray sensitive digital cameras connected to the computer with a thin wire. The limit to the resolution of the image is the number of megapixels on the sensor. The images can be enlarged immediately until the image becomes pixelated.

Both conventional x-rays and digital x-rays are subject to various artifacts and errors that sometimes damage images. However, most dentists and orthodontists agree that the digital x-ray is a sharper, cleaner image that is more accurate to interpret.

Dental Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CT).

Digital dental x-ray technology offers the same opportunity for sophisticated processing of x-rays as are offered to the medical specialist. Computer tomography (CT) makes use of special x-ray equipment to generate three-dimensional images of teeth, soft tissues, nerve pathways, and bone in a single scan. The dental cone beam is a special type of x-ray machine. It is in the shape of a cone. The x-ray beam is moved around the patient’s mouth to produce a large number of images which are combined in the computer to generate the high-resolution composite. Both medical CT and dental CT exposes the patient to much higher levels of radiation, so neither tool is routinely used.

Different digital x-ray techniques.

There are three methods of obtaining digital x-ray images.

The direct method: An electronic sensor (the “digital film”) is placed in the mouth to record images.

The indirect method: When traditional photographic images are made, a film scanner adapted for x-rays is used to convert the analog x-rays into digital x-rays and viewed on computers.

The semi-indirect digital technique: This technique combines a digital sensor in the mouth with the scanned and converted analog x-ray.

Hamer and Glassick Orthodontics uses the most up-to-date technology for our patients.  If you’ve got questions about our technology and how we use it, don’t hesitate to ask at your next appointment!  Schedule it today by calling 434-296-0188!