In this study the diagnostic accuracy of D-speed and E-speed film in the detection of simulated periodontal bone lesions was compared with that of an electronic direct digital image receptor. Lesions of increasing depth were created in 11 human hemimandibles at the buccal cortical plate in the interproximal marginal bone area by means of 1.4 mm diameter round bursa. Specimens were imaged at each lesion stage with the use of all three receptors. Nine viewers used a 5-point rating scale to evaluate whether lesions were present or absent in the resulting images. Receiver operating characteristic curves were generated, and maximum-likelihood curve areas were calculated. The area under the curve was used as the index of diagnostic accuracy. The mean receiver operating characteristic areas for D-speed film, E-speed film, and the direct digital system were 0.745 +/- 0.038, 0.740 +/- 0.038, and 0.741 +/- 0.037, respectively. Critical ratio analysis was used to compare the means. No statistical difference was found between any of the three image receptors (p > 0.05) for the detection of simulated periodontal lesions 1.0 to 3.0 mm in depth, which suggested that the digital system performed comparably with conventional film systems.