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Improving Patient Health via Digital Radiography

Digital radiography systems are beneficial to a dental practice in several ways. These systems not only allow the practice to function more efficiently in regard to productivity and patient throughput (thus increasing revenue), they also eliminate the cost of film and allow for easier communication (eg, e-mail) with insurance companies and other dental professionals. But how do these systems benefit the patient?

It is important that each patient receives the highest standard of care that dentistry has to offer.1 This not only applies to the successful outcome of a treatment, but also to the well-being of the patient during treatment. Digital radiography systems allow the clinician to capture radiographs through a very low dose of radiation, whereas conventional x-rays require longer exposure times, resulting in a higher level of exposure. Why is this important, and how does radiation affect the patient?

Conventional x-rays require the use of film, which come in varying speeds. According to a survey by The Nationwide Evaluation of X-ray Trends (NEXT), in the United States, 70% of dental practitioners use the slowest film with its higher patient dose.2 The amount of radiation a patient is subjected to when this film is used is approximately 1.7 mGy per film with an average of close to four films being used per examination.2 According to a study by Blanc et al, digital radiography systems, on the other hand, showed markedly reduced exposure values. The overall analysis of dosimetric values demonstrated a mean dose reduction averaging 40% to 60% with respect to standard film exposure.3 This reduction in exposure results in safer patient health.


Effects of Radiation on the Body

The energy from the x-rays can be absorbed by molecules in the body (eg, sugars, proteins, DNA/RNA). These molecules (ie, combinations of different kinds of atoms that are joined by chemical bonds) carry out the functions of living tissue.4 The energy produced from an x-ray can be damaging to these molecules, which can lead to the production of less functional proteins (eg, DNA). DNA is the most crucial of the molecules in the body; it is the blueprint for all of the body’s structures.4 DNA molecules are made up of extremely long chains of atoms that are wound around proteins and packed into chromosomes (ie, structures within the cell nucleus). When radiation disrupts an electron, pushing it out of its orbit around an atomic nucleus, electrical charges form on atoms or molecules,4 and this can cause harm to the DNA. The collisions and ionizations that take place in the body due to radiation exposure happen very quickly (ie, in less than a second), but it takes much longer for biological effects to become noticeable. One possible long-term effect of radiation is cancer. This occurs if radiation alters the DNA code of a cell. This mutation is caused by an error in the “blueprint.”4 Therefore, it is the responsibility of the dentist to make sure that the patient is receiving optimal care in all aspects of treatment, including reduced radiation exposure.   


Table. Five Benefits of Digital Radiography to Emphasize for Your Patients

  • Digital radiography systems allow the clinician to capture radiographs through a very low dose of radiation, thus resulting in safer patient health;
  • Patients view their x-rays instantly on a chairside monitor, which enables the clinician to easily explain the patient’s current case and treatment options;
  • Eliminates the need to process film as is required by conventional x-rays, and therefore expedites patient care;
  • Communication with other dental offices (ie, referrals) and insurance companies can be accomplished via e-mail, thus making the process more efficient for both patient and professional; and
  • Digital x-rays can be printed out and handed to the patient for personal record- keeping, whereas conventional x-rays require a light box and can be difficult to handle.


Digital radiography systems are a safer alternative to conventional film x-rays in regard to patient health. They offer a significant reduction in radiation exposure, and are more convenient for patients as well. Digital radiography systems not only make the patient’s visit more productive, these systems allow the patient to rest easy in the chair, knowing they are receiving the best possible care.



  1. Aldridge D. Improved patient education and practice efficiency via digital radiography—Part I. Pract Proced Aesthet Dent 2006;18(4):212-214.
  2. Dental Radiography: Doses and Film Speed. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/radhlth/dentalradio.html. Accessed February 16, 2007.
  3. Blanc M, Nessi R, Paruccini N, Castellana L. Disimetric evaluations in dental radiology: Comparison of the digital system and the conventional system. Radiol Med (Torino) 1995;89(3):319-323.
  4. How Does Radiation Affect Humans? Available at: http://hss.energy.gov/HealthSafety/ohre///roadmap/achre/intro_9_5.html. Accessed February 16, 2007.
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