Film still best fit for many dentists

Oct. 1, 2004
Tried and true, film remains the mainstay for this dentist's diagnostic-imaging needs.

by Martin Strouch, DDS

With all that's being written and said about digital radiography, it's sometimes tempting to think that digital is the right technology for every practice.

I have thought about switching from film to digital technology in my practice. But after careful consideration, I realized it did not make sense for me. The fact is no single imaging technology is right for every practice, and, in my case, film remains the best choice for our diagnostic-imaging needs.

One size doesn't fit all

Every dental practice is unique. For me, the decision to keep using film is based on the specific characteristics of my practice. First of all, it's a well-established practice. I've been serving patients in my middle-class community for 30 years. Many of my patients have been coming to me for their dental care for that entire time.

The strength of my practice is based on more than its longevity, however. I've worked hard to earn my patients' trust. My patients know that after I recommend a treatment, I give them the time and information they need to make decisions with which they are comfortable. As a result, my patients generally accept my recommendations. They have come to understand that I have their best interests at heart.

These characteristics neutralize one proposed benefit of switching to digital radiography. For example, for some dentists, digital radiography can be used as a marketing tool to grow a practice. In my case, I have the right patient balance to meet my needs. The tools I have to perform case presentations for my patients already help improve my rate of case acceptance. I would need other compelling reasons to make a major investment in new equipment.

Patient care

One justification for digital radiology that any dentist must consider is its impact on patient care. The fundamental reason we use radiology is to help in the diagnosis of oral pathology. Dentists have been using film to do this for over 100 years. This is an admirable track record.

Many improvements have been made to film technology since it was first introduced. A year ago, I switched to a new film. I'd been using Kodak Ultra-Speed and switched to Kodak InSight film to take advantage of the reduced exposure times this faster film affords. In this case, there was a clear patient benefit to making this technology switch: I was able to reduce exposures by about 50 percent compared to my old film. Digital radiography allows similar reductions, compared to D-speed films, but the transition is more complicated. To switch to the new film, all I had to do was change the exposure times on my X-ray generator.

The benefit to patients was clear, and the transition caused no disruption to my practice or staff.

Weighing the trade-offs

On the other hand, switching from film to digital requires time and patience. The staff needs to learn how to operate the new equipment. Their jobs and — depending on the equipment, the dentist's job — may need to change to accommodate the new technology.

It's also important to consider that these types of changes can affect patients, at least in the short term.

In my practice, we have a diagnostic technology that works, and works well. My employees, who have been with me for 15 years or more, understand it and are comfortable with it.

I know many dentists who have made the switch to digital radiography and are very happy with it. One is a good friend of mine. He loves the technology! He always buys the newest electronics for his personal use: he owns the latest television and the best camera. For him, running a computerized practice is fun. He loves playing with his practice-management software.

I'm different. I don't enjoy technology for its own sake. For this reason, converting to digital imaging in my office wouldn't make practicing dentistry more enjoyable for me. Therefore, I can see no improvement to the work environment that might outweigh the temporary disruption involved in switching to digital technology would create.

The value of a practice

Another factor dentists must consider as they weigh a shift to digital radiography is whether investing in the new equipment would improve the value of the practice.

Everyone wants the increased value to be significant. The value of my practice lies in my patient base. Should I decide to sell my practice, whoever buys it will be purchasing an established practice with an excellent regional reputation for quality, trustworthy dentistry. Of course, the technology I purchase would boost the practice's tangible assets; but remember, digital technology changes quickly and staying current is a part of that investment.

Over the years, my patient base has proven its support for my practice. This is an asset that won't depreciate, as long as we continue to earn the patients' loyalty and trust.

Change can be a good thing. Several years ago, when the technology that allows practices to computerize billing became available, we embraced it. We made the transition and were happy with the results.

But in the case of digital radiography, the benefits don't appear to outweigh the disruption that the change would cost my practice. So, for me, dental film remains the right choice for my practice's diagnostic imaging.

Martin Strouch, DDS, graduated from Clark University in 1966, and earned his dental degree at New York University. After graduation, he served as a dentist in the U.S. Air Force. He has been in general practice in Kensington, Conn., since 1973.

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