Dental Imaging, Phosphor Plate or Sensor?

Dental Imaging, Phosphor Plate or Sensor?

Dental Imaging has moved on from the days of film, this article is my opinion on where it is and where its going.

For more than a hundred years now, film has been a reliable and easy way to take your photographs, it is relatively cheap, gives consistently good results and is easy to use, it was Kodak back in 1896 that first made dental x-ray film available to the dental profession, other film manufacturers have since come and gone.

dental imaging scanner

Digital Sensor

But since barely anyone reading this article will still take photographs using film, most photographs aren’t even taken on a traditional camera, its usually a mobile phone, so its film isn’t something with a great future in front of it, the way forward is digital.

Dental x-rays are as much a part of the dental practice as is a drill or dental chair. They are essential to good practice, but when you move your dental imaging from good old reliable film to the digital world, what technology should you choose?

There are two competing technologies in the dental imaging field, they are sensors and phosphor plate. Both have their pro’s and con’s, I’ll give you my view as to what these are.

The basic difference is that a sensor is normally attached directly to a computer usually by a cable. A phosphor plate on the other hand works in a similar way to film, but rather than being processed by chemicals the phosphor plate is scanned to “develop” the image.

When the image is on the computer both work in the same way and you can view and edit them both, usually with the same software.

For many years the king of the dental imaging digital x-ray field was sensors, this was mainly because phosphor plate technology was slow and the images were inferior to sensors.

The main advantage with a sensor is that the image is instant (or almost instant). In that the sensor is placed in the patients mouth, you click the button on the exposure device and the image is almost instantly displayed on the computer screen. Phosphor Plate on the other hand has to be scanned in some form of scanner before you can see the image.

For many years that scanning process we quite slow (around a minute), and because you were scanning an image from another device, rather than direct from a sensor, the image quality was never as good as a sensor and to some degree that is still true.

The big disadvantage 0f the sensor is that it is rigid, relatively bulky (in comparison to film) and normally has a cable attached to it. This makes it uncomfortable for many patients (myself included). It can also be difficult for new users of sensors to position them correctly too. The biggest reason for poor images with sensors is because of placement of the sensor.

Dental imaging sensors have been around since the 1980’s and whilst the quality and speed of them is much better now than it was then, the basic design is pretty much the same. I can remember seeing my first dental imaging sensor back in 1993 and thinking how they big they were then (particularly as size two or bite wing sensor).

The biggest technological advances in dental imaging over the last few years has been with phosphor plate. The scan times have been reduced considerably, meaning that you can now scan a plate in under 20 seconds and the image quality is as good as most sensors.

Phosphor plate systems give you a much greater range of film or sensor size. Because sensors are rigid and more bulky, you can only have a size one or size two sensor (some do produce a size zero).

dental imaging scanner

Phosphor Plate Scanner

But the biggest advantage for phosphor plate is that you can install a single scanner into your practice and share it between multiple surgeries, this can save you thousands of pounds, as you will would normally have one or maybe even two sensors in each surgery

So when you decide to finally throw away your film processor and invest in new dental imaging technology, I really can’t think of any reason why you would want to invest in sensors rather than phosphor plate.

Unless the manufacturers can overcome the issues of size and rigidity, I think that the sensor may be going the way of film and will be consigned to the past.

If you would like impartial advice on dental I.T. as well as marketing, give me a call on 01767 626 398 or email me at



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