Digital-Xray (Dental Radiographs)
Dental Radiographs are commonly called x-rays. Dentists use
radiographs for many reasons: to find hidden dental structures, malignant or
benign masses, bone loss, and cavities.
A radiographic image is formed by a controlled burst of X-ray radiation which penetrates oral structures at different levels, depending on varying anatomical densities, before striking the film or sensor. Teeth appear lighter because less radiation penetrates them to reach the film. Dental caries, infections and other changes in the bone density, and the periodontal ligament, appear darker because X-rays readily penetrate these less dense structures. Dental restorations (fillings, crowns) may appear lighter or darker, depending on the density of the material.
The dosage of X-ray radiation received by a dental patient is typically small (around 0.150 mSv for a full mouth series, according to the American Dental Association website), equivalent to a few days' worth of background environmental radiation exposure, or similar to the dose received during a cross-country airplane flight (concentrated into one short burst aimed at a small area). Incidental exposure is further reduced by the use of a lead shield, lead apron, sometimes with a lead thyroid collar. Technician exposure is reduced by stepping out of the room, or behind adequate shielding material, when the X-ray source is activated.
Once photographic film has been exposed to X-ray radiation, it needs to be developed, traditionally using a process where the film is exposed to a series of chemicals in a dark room, as the films are sensitive to normal light. This can be a time-consuming process, and incorrect exposures or mistakes in the development process can necessitate retakes, exposing the patient to additional radiation. Digital x-rays, which replace the film with an electronic sensor, address some of these issues, and are becoming widely used in dentistry as the technology evolves. They may require less radiation and are processed much more quickly than conventional radiographic films, often instantly viewable on a computer. However digital sensors are extremely costly and have historically had poor resolution, though this is much improved in modern sensors. This preoperative photo of tooth #3, (A), reveals no clinically apparent decay other than a small spot within the central fossa. In fact, decay could not be detected with an explorer. Radiographic evaluation, (B), however, revealed an extensive region of demineralization within the dentin (arrows) of the mesial half of the tooth. When a bur was used to remove the occlusal enamel overlying the decay, (C), a large hollow was found within the crown and it was discovered that a hole in the side of the tooth large enough to allow the tip of the explorer to pass was contiguous with this hollow. After all of the decay had been removed, (D), the pulp chamber had been exposed and most of the mesial half of the crown was either missing or poorly supported. It is possible for both tooth decay and periodontal disease to be missed during a clinical exam, and radiographic evaluation of the dental and periodontal tissues is a critical segment of the comprehensive oral examination. The photographic montage at right depicts a situation in which extensive decay had been overlooked by a number of dentists prior to radiographic