Dental Digital Radiography: What Is It? Pros And Cons & Cost

Digital dental radiography (DDR) is basically a new and better way to take dental X-rays. And who doesn’t like better?

More and more dental professionals are using DDR because it’s better at detecting oral diseases, which helps the doctor be more accurate with their diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring.

Dental Digital Radiography – How Does It Work?

DDR uses digital X-ray sensors instead of the usual photographic film. Those sensors record images of the mouth.

Dental Digital Radiography Sensors

There are three types of methods when using dental digital radiography sensors: the direct method, indirect method, and semi-indirect method.

Here’s a quick rundown of each method:

  • The direct method: electronic sensor goes inside the mouth to capture images
  • The indirect method: X-ray film scanner converts traditional X-rays to digital so they can be viewed on a computer
  • The semi-indirect method: uses both an electronic sensor and an X-ray scanner
Dental digital radiography uses electronic sensors to capture images of the mouth rather than the traditional way of using film. And there are three main methods to use for an X-ray depending on the situation: the direct method, the indirect method, and the semi-direct method.

Dental Digital Imaging vs Traditional X-Rays

The world is moving digital and those who resist it will be left behind. Just like the film industry transitioned from film to digital, the dental industry is moving that way as well.

Even though nowadays it’s more common for dentists’ offices to use digital radiography, a lot of dentists still use film radiology. The biggest deterrent to switching to digital radiography is the cost and work it takes to install the machines and training staff members.

More and more dental professionals are switching to digital imaging, seeing the long-term savings and patient benefits over traditional imaging.

Digital Dental Radiography Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of dental digital imaging verses what traditional film X-rays offer:

  • The images are processed right away and viewable immediately while traditional film takes a long time to develop
  • DDR uses less radiation and still gets the same or better quality image as film X-rays
  • You can edit and enhance DDR images, like change the contrast to better see a section of the picture
  • You can easily store the digital images on a hard drive instead of physical film images
  • DDR produces much larger images than traditional X-rays, making it easier to see any oral issues
  • Although it’s expensive to initially get into, it’s more affordable long-term and more environmentally friendly
  • Digital X-rays have 256 shades of gray while traditional X-rays have just 16-25 shades of gray
The benefits of dental digital radiography are many, including better images, less radiation, and easy image storage.

Disadvantages Of Digital Radiography

But, like everything in life, there are downsides to digital radiography. Here are the main disadvantages:

  • Initiating the use of digital radiography is expensive for dental professionals. Plus, they’ll have maintenance fees and they’ll have to pay people to transfer old film images to digital images.
  • After getting the sensor system set up, employees will have to know how to work it. This requires hours of training initially and additional training as the technology develops.
  • Some sensors of some digital systems using the direct method are much bigger and bulkier than the traditional films, which means it could be more uncomfortable for the patient.
  • Most of the digital sensors on the market are not able to be sterilized, so they have to be covered in plastic protection. This increases the chance of cross-contamination between patients, meaning it’s more likely to spread infection.
There are some disadvantages of dental digital radiography, like the high upfront cost of installing a digital system and the amount of training involved.

Dental Digital Radiography Cost

Whether you’re a dentist or a patient, you’ll need to know how much it will cost to use digital radiography.

For patients, the price is not too different from film radiography as insurance often covers some or all of it. For dentists, it can be a difficult switch because of the cost.

For Patients

As a patient, you can expect dental digital radiography X-ray to cost as little as $10 for a bitewing scan up to $250 for a full-mouth scan. However, insurance will often cover the procedure and only require a copay ranging from $5 up to $50.

So digital radiography can greatly benefit the patient without much of a cost difference from film radiography.

For Dentists

Although the initial cost of implementing digital radiography in a dentist’s office is high, dental professionals will save money in the long-run. This is because film radiography requires lots of one-time-use supplies, like film and chemicals to process the images. Plus, it takes time to develop the film and time (up to 15 hours a week). And, in this case, time equals money.

Dentists can buy a digital radiography system that can cost between $11,000 and $15,000 for a wired system and between $20,000 and $50,000 for a wireless system. However, they can also lease a system for $4,000 to $5,000 per year, but that can get costly long term.

Also, as the technology develops and improves, the cost will gradually come down. In fact, it has been steadily decreasing since it first hit the market when it costed up to $30,000.

The cost of digital imaging is not too different from traditional film imaging. But for dental professionals, the high upfront cost of getting a digital system as well as the hours spent training staff are typical reasons why dentists don’t switch.

Dental Digital Radiography Safety

Anytime radiation is involved, there will be safety concerns, even with the very low amount involved in digital radiography. So with DDR, the patient will wear a lead apron for protection and a lead thyroid collar, especially if the patient is pregnant or could be pregnant.

Pregnant women can have up to four radiographs each time they visit and still be safe. Even still, most dentists will choose to do standard X-rays after the pregnancy is over. For emergencies, it’s best to simply do the X-ray scan.

Although radiation is still involved with digital imaging, it’s much less than traditional film imaging, making it a much safer option.

The Bottom Line

  • Digital radiography uses electronic sensors to capture images of the mouth instead of film.
  • There are three main methods to use with digital imaging: the direct method, the indirect method, and the semi-direct method.
  • Many dental professionals are switching to digital imaging because of the long-term savings and patient benefits.
  • Some of the upsides of digital imaging include better and more detailed images, less radiation, and easy image storage.
  • One of the main disadvantages to digital imaging is the high upfront cost of installing a digital system and the amount of staff training involved.
  • Patients won’t see much of a price change between film and digital imaging.
  • Radiation is used in digital imaging, but it’s much less than traditional film imaging, meaning digital is the safer option.