Why a radiograph and x ray are not the same thing 17

Many, many people and dental professionals incorrectly use the term x ray when referring to a radiograph.  I am quite the nitpick on this and other terminology, which drives my students up the walls from time to time.  I’m not sure why or how everyone learned to incorrectly identify a radiograph as an x ray.  The difference between the two comes down to definitions of the two words.

An x ray is a photon of energy.  This is what is exposing the patient for the final image.  This is not the final image and x rays cannot be seen by the naked eye, unless you are Superman.  🙂   (Fun fact: the x in x ray is from the algebraic x for unknown, when Wilhelm Rontgen discovered x rays he labeled it as such assuming down the road someone would discover more about them and correctly identify it as something else than an x ray.)

A radiograph is the resultant image after a patient or object is exposed to x rays.

I realize that many people are set in their ways and will refuse to change their verbiage.  That’s fine with me, but be prepared should you say x ray instead of radiograph I will correct you.  😛

Should you care to discuss with me why you choose to say one or the other, I’m always open to hear others comments.

17 thoughts on “Why a radiograph and x ray are not the same thing

  • Mike

    I only used the verbiage based on naivety. Completely makes sense now that I know. and KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE!

  • Bob Jessup

    Thank you for the simple explanation. My dentist used the term radiograph today, so she gets extra points! I’ll be sure to use the term radiograph for the image from this day forward, especially if I should find myself in your presence!

    • Dr. Shawneen Gonzalez Post author

      X rays are waves of energy so you do not take an x ray to see a radiograph. You expose a patient to x rays onto an image receptor (film, digital sensor, phosphor plate) to see a final image (radiograph).

  • George

    Well it looks like you can argue with Mr Webster as the definition for X-Ray is: to examine, treat, or photograph with X-rays

    • Dr. Shawneen Gonzalez Post author

      This is a carryover from my residency program and my program director (Axel Ruprecht). He was very particular about terminology and would use the term making to describe that you purposefully position the image receptor and x ray unit to achieve your desired image. I hope that helps explain. 🙂

  • kim fielder

    In class we learned the difference between X-ray and radiographs but some have argued with me.
    So thank you for your clarification.

  • Georgia

    I couldn’t figure out why my veterinarian said x-ray while the veterinarian surgeon said radiograph. Thank you for the clarification.

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