Tommy, Can You Hear Me (Now)?

At the beginning of the year, I try to review some technology changes that could be helpful in dental practice.

by Paul Feuerstein, DMD

At the beginning of the year, I try to review some technology changes that could be helpful in dental practice. As I scour magazines, such as PC World and PC Magazine, I look for ideas. Here are a few I have noted:

Intel is about to introduce a new processor called Penryn. This could confuse dentists who are about to purchase new computers. For the last year, new systems have been sold with “Duo Core” processors. This implies that there are actually two processors working simultaneously or double the amount of data at the same time.

This oversimplification will be replaced with the Penryn, which is a quad core CPU. Why would dentists possibly need this sort of power? Well, think about the amount of data that is generated and processed with the new CBCT units, as well as with sophisticated imaging software.

It takes much power and calculations to have these images appear on the screen and be easily manipulated. It is interesting that the Celeron, which was introduced in 1995, was 131 square mm and contained 7.5 million transistors. The Duo Core is 11 mm larger but has 291 million transistors while the quad core has 214 square mm and 890 million transistors. H.A.L. never had it so good!

Monitors are about to change, too. Although there are many fine plasma and LCD units that are now in offices, a new technology called OLED is about to explode. The monitors use a membrane that allows the entire unit to come in at 3 mm thick. Sony has introduced the first one as a TV, the XEL-1 OLED. Although it is priced at $1,743 and is only an 11-inch screen, the resolution is one million to 1! As we have seen with the other flat screens, this technology rapidly accelerates and prices will fall.

Many computer products in the dental office plug into USB ports. In a typical treatment room setup, the computer sometimes is placed in an inaccessible area. If the USB ports are in the back of the computer, you often have to be a contortionist to plug in a new wire. There are small “hubs” that you can purchase, providing four or more inputs, that can be plugged in via a long wire. This allows computer placement in a better location.

A possible problem with a hub is the trailing wire, which could require drilling a hole in a countertop or some similar solution. To avoid this, Iogear has introduced a wireless USB hub. After a small transmitter is plugged into the computer, the hub can be placed within a 10- to 15-foot radius of the computer. Get more info on the hub at iogear.com.

And now for a few words about cell phone reception. It is not uncommon for dental patients to try to answer their cell phones or at least pull the phone from their pockets and hold it in front of the dentist’s face to see who is calling. Many dentists have policies about cell phone use for patients. There are times, however, when a dentist wants to use a cell phone in the office (or at home), and finds that there is little or no reception in some areas.

You can get a signal booster that requires an antenna to be placed in a good reception area (usually outside or in an attic). Then, run a cable to the base unit so it is positioned where you are getting poor reception. Examples are at wi-ex.com and wilsonelectronics.com. There is also a unique solution that merges cell phone signals and VOIP technology.

There are a couple of “hybrid” phones. After you plug a transmitting unit into your computer network, the phone will automatically switch from the cell signal in the house to the one that is coming from the sky. While this might require additional fees, you do end up with a cell phone that works everywhere. Examples of these are Sprint Airwave and T-Mobile’s Hotspot@home.

Also, look for new laptops to appear with no hard drives. Those small SD cards for cameras and other devices have increased in storage size dramatically. Samsung has introduced the first model with a 32-gig card rather than a hard drive. Tests show that this type of memory is not only faster than a hard drive (since it moves only electrons, not disks), but there is no noise and little heat is produced.

Finally, although Vista has just received its service pack, it has a long way to go before I will give it a thumbs up. Also, make sure you maintain your office tech budget.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and he is an ADA seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at drpaul@toothfairy.com.

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