Phosphor-plate radiography systems

Lorne Lavine, DMD

There is no doubt that sensor-based radiography systems are still the most dominant type of digital-radiography system on the market in terms of units sold. However, over the past few years, another form of digital radiography, phosphor plates, has become increasingly popular. While Denoptix was the first player in this field, there are now systems from many major companies, such as the Scan-X from Air Techniques, the Paxorama from Orex, and the Sidexis from Sirona. In this article, we will examine the reasons why these systems may be an ideal fit for many dental practices.

For both dentists and staff, the transition to phosphor plates is typically much easier than sensor-based systems. The plates are often thinner than film and can be used in the existing RINN kit holders. The process of taking images is very similar to film: The assistant will take an image on a plate. Unlike sensors, there are no wires or cables that must be accounted for during image acquisition. After taking the images, the plates are carried over to a machine that resembles a processor. In reality, it is a laser scanner. Depending on the system, the plates are either inserted into a slot or placed onto a drum, and then the machine is run. Once the images appear, it is a simple matter to "mount" the images by clicking and dragging them in the software to their appropriate location on a template. While this entire process is significantly slower than the immediate images of sensors, it is still faster than film.

At the highest settings, many phosphor plate systems are capable of 15-20 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). While not as high as some sensors which are close to 25 lp/mm, this is usually more of a marketing tactic. The human eye will have trouble differentiating anything beyond 12 lp/mm. The computer monitor will have a much greater effect on what we see.

Sensors still are very expensive to purchase and maintain. Sensors cost anywhere from $5,000 to $14,000 each, and extended warranties add around $1,000 to $2,000 per sensor per year to the overall system price. The phosphor plates, on the other hand, cost about $25 each. According to the manufacturers, the plates will lose their ability to capture a diagnostic image after 750 to 1,000 uses. In reality, few offices will see these results. The plates are easier to scratch and damage, and most offices will be lucky to get 500 uses out of each plate. However, for such a minor replacement cost, the ongoing maintenance costs are not a factor.

The cost of an intraoral-only, phosphor-plate system is around $15,000. This is equal in cost to what many sensor vendors will charge for a combination No. 1 and No. 2 sensor package. However, remember that maintenance cost for sensors will be higher over the life of the sensor (around three years is average). Larger practices will need more than just two sensors. A single phosphor-plate system can accommodate a large group practice. Finally, a practice that wants a digital Panorex will find a huge cost difference between the two systems. Adding a pano plate and capabilities to a phosphor-plate system will only drive the price up to about $20,000; the plate itself runs $800 from most vendors. A digital Panorex, on the other hand, adds $30,000 to $50,000 to the cost of the sensors.

While sensors will continue to dominate the market for many years, practices should evaluate the phosphor-plate systems to be used instead of, or in conjunction with, sensors. They are easy to use, comfortable, require minimal staff training, and, in the long run, will be more cost-effective than sensors. While they aren't right for everyone, phosphor-plate systems should be considered by any dentist looking to add digital radiography to the office.

There is no perfect digital-radiography system. Dentists must decide which factors are most important to them and base their decision on those factors. There is no right or wrong — only what is best for you!

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by email at drlavine@thedigitaldentist.com or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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