Change can be complicated and complex. However, transitioning from traditional X-rays to digital radiography is one change that doesn’t have to be as insurmountable as it may seem. Converting the dental office to digital radiography has an array of benefits that make a patient’s visit quicker, easier, and more comfortable. Likewise, these benefits simply make hygienists’ jobs more efficient, and even a bit more fun.
Why is digital integration important? Quite simply, digital radiography is driving the clinical use of computers in the dental office. Since 2000, the number of general practices using digital radiography has more than doubled.1
It is important to note that the first step in conquering a fear of the unknown, such as digital X-rays, is educating yourself. Almost any digital radiography system can be mastered within a matter of days - or in some cases a few hours - depending on the system, trainer, and your skill level. The idea of going digital should not overwhelm you, as the basic techniques you use in acquiring a traditional X-ray remain the same when taking a digital X-ray. As a result, the learning curve is slight.
Digital X-rays can be acquired in a variety of ways - direct and indirect. The most basic indirect conversion to digital is to take a traditional X-ray and scan it into a computer for digital storage and easy file sharing. A scanner with a transparency adapter is required for this process. This is the most time-consuming method, because you must take the X-ray, process it, and then scan it into the computer.
The next indirect option - which cuts a step out of the process - is to use a phosphor plate scanning system, such as Air Techniques ScanX or Soredex OpTime. In this method, you simply place a phosphor plate in the patient’s mouth (its look and size are much like traditional film), take the X-ray, and run the phosphor plate through the scanner. The scanner then reads the plate and places the X-ray into the computer. Once the images are scanned, the plates can be erased, rebagged, and reused.
The direct digital option is sensor-based radiography. There is a plethora of digital sensors to choose from, my most extensive experience being with Schick digital sensors. These systems save users the time it takes to scan traditional and phosphor X-rays while easily capturing high-quality images. The process is to place the sensor in the patient’s mouth, expose the sensor, and view the image.
The benefits of direct digital radiography include:
•Fast results - Sensors show the image within seconds, allowing users to see if the image needs to be retaken while the sensor and tube head are still in position. This allows for quick correction and better images.
•Reduced radiation - Patients benefit from lower exposure. Patients love the fact that they are exposed to less radiation.
•Image enhancement - Adjustments can be made to the images to aid in diagnosis. This includes the ability to darken or lighten images if the exposure is not exactly correct.
•Time savings - No time is spent maintaining the darkroom, developing films or mounting images.
The concerns I hear most often from offices considering direct digital imaging are:
◆How do you position the sensor correctly?
◆How do you make the sensor fit comfortably for your patient?
◆How do you take full advantage of your office’s digital system?
◆Are digital sensors too expensive?
◆Will I be able to make the shift and take good digital images?
Each of these questions can be quickly resolved if you ensure that your office works with the correct digital partner. All software programs and sensors are not created equal.
It is important to consider the practice management software your office uses before choosing digital radiography equipment, because some software systems may not be compatible. There are some systems, such as Patterson EagleSoft, that integrate with a vast majority of direct and indirect digital imaging products, allowing users to choose the imaging products that best fit their needs.
It is also important that your digital partner be able to provide exceptional training. By working with a knowledgeable trainer, you can be assured you will understand the entire digital process.
If you are fearful of technology and believe you do not have a working knowledge of computers, register for a computer class today. Become familiar with how to use the computer, word processing software such as Microsoft Word, and the Internet. Computers bring countless advantages to the dental office, and they will continue to become more widely accepted. Computers are an undeniable part of your clinical future. The goal of this article series has been to educate and inform you about technology-related issues and trends, and most importantly, to acknowledge that technology is your friend. Technology will help you be the best clinician and educator you can be for your patients.
1 Digital radiography survey, Dental Products Report May 2005. Available: http://www.dentalproducts.net/xml/display.asp?file=2976&bhcp=1.