Dental X-Rays – What’s Developed Over the Last 100 Years

November 6, 2015


If you think about the last time your dental care provider took x-ray images of your teeth, it was probably pretty easy. For most, you probably stood in a scanning booth or a sensor was held between your teeth, a few seconds later an image appeared, neatly displaying your pearly whites all in a row. You were able to see what looked good, and maybe even what didn’t. However, if you’ve been seeing a dentist for a little while longer, you were probably used to a whole different experience. Before the development of digital imaging, x-rays were created with traditional film and developing techniques, darkroom and all.

Those that have had x-rays taken on film understand the process took time, and had many more manual steps than the digital processes of today. They might not realize though that even this was easier than it was over 100 years ago for those working to introduce x-rays to the world. The first x-ray image was taken in 1896 by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen of his wife’s hand; an amazing step in medical examinations as well as an incredible proof of concept, as he had only discovered x-ray radiation in his laboratory a month prior. The developed film image, which was circulated among a group of Roentgen’s colleagues, was this first distribution of a medical x-ray image, which today is common practice between providers. Following Roentgen’s discoveries, Dr. Otto Walkhoff of Germany used his own mouth to produce the first known dental x-ray image. Early x-rays took anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes for exposure depending on the body part and style of x-ray machine, as well as dealing up to 15,000 times the dosage of radiation that you get now from your dentist’s newer systems. Even in the modern days of film radiography, we came a long way from those early x-ray pioneers. Now digital is even simpler and quicker.

Until 1987, all professional dental radiography was done on film. This required extensive setup, careful handling of materials, dealing with hazardous chemical wastes, and a much longer time after taking the image to be able to view the results. But, in the day, this was the norm, and the downsides of film x-ray images were overlooked in favor of the ability to detect and diagnose conditions much earlier, and provide more in-depth information on the patient. Since then, digital imaging has become the standard in dental x-ray imagery, and provides a host of benefits over film radiography. Digital sensors vary in style and the actual science behind their methods of collecting the x-ray radiation, but they offer primarily the same benefits. Digital images require less radiation in dosage and exposure time, and little to no time in processing, as well as giving a more easily manipulated image to provide for a more detailed examination of the patient. All of the offices with Atlas use a form of digital imaging to provide the best possible process and service for our patients.

With the developments in dental radiography, organizations like the Food and Drug Administration and American Dental Association have worked to keep standards and recommendations up to date.  They work so patients and providers remain informed and maintain a high level of safety in both the use of x-ray devices and overall health. Along with these guidelines, such groups have developed a recommendation for patients to know when they should be looking for a new x-ray examination from their dentist. For children without any known conditions or concerns, an individualized comprehensive radiograph series should be taken at their first visit, and a standard series should be taken again every 12-24 months following. For adults, an individualized comprehensive x-ray series should be done if they are visiting a dentist for the first time or if they have not seen a dentist regularly for check-ups. A reasonable expectation for adults who see their dentist as scheduled would be a standard radiographic exam every 12 -36 months. Keep in mind, these schedules may change based on your health or your dentist’s recommendations.

So, next time you think it might be inconvenient to visit your dentist for a checkup and some x-rays, just be glad that you don’t have to hold still for half an hour to get pictures of your teeth



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