Beyond return on investment

I have heard many of my colleagues say that while they would love to have digital radiography in their practice, they cannot afford its high price. Year after year, I read surveys stating that this is the number one technology that dentists are interested in purchasing. I understand this dilemma.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

I have heard many of my colleagues say that while they would love to have digital radiography in their practice, they cannot afford its high price. Year after year, I read surveys stating that this is the number one technology that dentists are interested in purchasing. I understand this dilemma.

In the October 2001 issue of Dental Economics, I discussed the simple economics of purchasing a digital-radiography system. We reviewed fixed costs, variable costs, and operatory costs. Some simple calculations showed that the cost of these systems is not that different from the costs of conventional film. In this column, I would like to show you other ways that digital radiography can provide a large return on your investment.

Digital radiography can have a huge impact in all areas of dentistry:

Dental hygiene: Digital Radiography will save your hygienist five to 10 minutes of conventional film-developing time. This will free that person up to provide more treatment or to better educate their patients.

Emergency Dentistry: How many times does a patient come into your office with vague symptoms? You take a radiograph in an area you suspect and find nothing out of the ordinary on that film. You then must start over again by taking a second or third radiograph of other areas. Imaging the time saved when the image immediately appears on your computer monitor. Imagine the time saved when the conventional film does not get a complete view of the apices of the teeth or if overlap has occurred. These frustrations disappear with digital technology.

Endodontics: One area of frustration in performing endodontics is getting good quality radiographs in very short periods of time. Frequently multiple films are taken while determining canal location and lengths. You can imagine how much time you can save if these images appear immediately on a monitor. The immediate availability of images will save 10-20 minutes on the length of an appointment.

Crown and bridge: With digital radiography, you will be able to check the fit of new crowns, bridges, posts, and implant-impression copings and abutments. Conventional films often are omitted in these situations to save time.

Periodontics: With digital radiography and the ability to enlarge and invert images, I have found it much easier to discuss bone levels with patients with periodontal problems. It also is easy to point out progression of bone loss by showing a series of successive images on one screen at one time.

Consultations: It is much easier to discuss diagnostic findings and case presentations when your patients are able to view and understand radiographic images. How many times have you found yourself holding a conventional film up to the light and asking patients "if they see that dark area under an old restoration or at the end of the root of the tooth?" Of course, your patients obediently nod their heads affirmatively in order to please you; but you know in their minds, they are saying to themselves, "I have no clue what you are showing me!" When a tooth or area of the mouth is shown to them at 10 times the size of a conventional film, problems become much easier to visualize and explain. Your case acceptance rate will soar when this occurs.

These repeated small time-savings can add up to significant amounts of time. The tirme saved by digital radiography will not only make our job of delivering quality dental care to our patients more efficient with less aggravation, but it also will allow you to add an extra patient or two to your schedule. This, in turn, will increase your return on your investment in this technology. The bottom line is this: digital radiography makes both good diagnostic and financial sense. It truly is better for your patients and better for your practice.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry Magazine and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. His address on the Internet is www.dfdasmiles.com. Contact him by email at jeff@dfdasmiles.com, by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.

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