The Hidden Costs of Comfort

Jan. 21, 2014
Working with my father for the past four years at his Peninsula Specialty Dental Care endodontic practice, I have come to a realization. Using film radiography in a practice is a bad habit.

By Joshua Barkhordar, DDS

Working with my father for the past four years at his Peninsula Specialty Dental Care endodontic practice, I have come to a realization. Using film radiography in a practice is a bad habit.

We have heard that humans are creatures of habit. People have their routines and rituals that help them through the day -- a morning cup of coffee, an afternoon jog, an hour in front of the TV at night.

Habits allow us to enter into a comfort zone where we're not as engaged with the task at hand, where we can accomplish something with little conscious attention or deliberate effort. Of course, some habits are bad for us. Smoking cigarettes, indulging in desserts or unhealthy foods, etc., all provide temporary comfort but at a long-term cost to our health. This is where film radiography comes in.

Ever since the advent of digital radiography, dental practitioners have been weighing the costs and benefits of adopting the new technology. Is the long-term return on investment worth the purchasing price? Are digital radiographic images comparable to film X-rays? How significant are the reduced radiation exposure levels?

Often the greatest impediment to making the transition from film to digital is also the simplest one. Sometimes dentists are just more comfortable sticking with the technology with which they are familiar. But, like any bad habit, the comfort of abiding by film radiography and resisting the technological advances of digital comes at the cost of the long-term financial success of your practice.

My father has been running his practice successfully in Belmont, Calif., for more than 15 years, providing his patients the utmost in quality dental care. When it comes to the question of phasing out his practice's film radiography equipment and implementing digital technology, my father is hesitant. He's simply more comfortable with the equipment he's been using for more than a decade and does not think it's worth it to have to learn how to integrate and operate new technology.

He's wary of the upfront costs of investing in digital imaging equipment. But the true costs of staying with film are hidden by the convenience of sticking with the technology with which he is familiar.

I have shared many of the same concerns with my father regarding the transition from film to digital. But as I follow the recent advancements in digital radiography, I am becoming more and more certain of its clear advantages.

Switching to digital immediately eliminates ongoing film and chemistry costs and allows you to use the space normally dedicated to developing film for something more productive for your practice. The money saved by ridding your practice of these recurring expenses adds up, and you would be surprised how quickly it can cover the initial investment.

Beyond money saved on supplies, digital imaging can increase your practice's profits by improving case acceptance rates. The ability to instantly display a digitally enhanced image to patients gets them more involved in the diagnostic process and less hesitant to go ahead with treatment plans. With the time you save from not needing to develop X-rays, you can see more patients. Significantly reducing costs and seeing more patients with higher case acceptance is a simple, yet powerful, recipe for your practice's long-term financial success.

With a growing awareness of the long-term financial impact of hesitating to transition away from film, my father has begun to outfit his practice with digital imaging equipment -- a 3-D CT cone beam system and intraoral digital sensors. In a year, I plan on opening a practice. Although I am also more familiar with film radiography, I know that to ensure the financial success of my new practice I will have to adopt the technology that reduces costs and increases profits.

When I was earning my DDS degree at the University of California San Francisco, I was mostly trained using conventional radiography equipment. Now, five years later, I oversee predoctoral patient care as a clinical instructor at UCSF. The students I teach have access to a variety of digital radiography equipment -- CCD and PSP versions of the technology -- and an EPR system that archives digital radiographic images to be accessible to various clinics and specialty programs.

The next generation of dental practitioners is being instilled with the skills of the future. For those accustomed to the traditional methods of radiography, I would suggest making the switch from film to digital -- the short-term comfort afforded by sticking with film is not worth the true long-term costs. Think of it as kicking a bad habit.

Joshua Barkhordar, DDS, is a member of Alpha Omega, ADA, CDA, and the San Mateo County Dental Society. In 2007, he received his DDS degree from UCSF School of Dentistry in San Francisco. He is a clinical instructor at UCSF, and practices dentistry in Belmont, Calif. Reach him by email at [email protected].

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