Steve Lynch, DMD
Digital radiography is many things to many people. For dentists, it's a way to immediately bump up the bottom line, and increase revenues and efficiency while providing the safest, most comfortable X-ray services to patients. For patients, it's an end to the discomfort of film packs and worrying about excessive exposure to X-rays, and it's being able to actually see the problems the dentist has diagnosed.
But when we're cataloging the benefits of digital radiography, I think we often overlook what this revolutionary technology means to our teams. To find out what those who are most involved in using digital X-rays think about it, I talked with several members of my own and other dentists' staffs, and I pass along their experiences.
Teresa: "What you see is what you're paying for."
Teresa is a dental office manager who, during her 15-year career in dentistry, also has worked as a hygienist. In addition to keeping the office running smoothly, Teresa's responsibilities include new-patient consultations. She welcomes patients, explains procedures, and takes an FMX for each incoming patient.
"Our digital X-ray system is especially good for the apprehensive patient — one who's not quite sure what to expect; maybe had a bad experience somewhere else. One of the first things I hear is that the DEXIS™ sensor didn't hurt 'like having that cardboard' in their mouths. They're referring to the film pack, which is so uncomfortable. They're very pleased at how easily the sensor fits, and how the rounded edges don't poke them."
Teresa also finds that patients appreciate seeing large-scale images of their X-rays on a computer screen. "Patients say to me over and over, 'What I'm paying for is right there on that screen.' Patients understand the problems we've found, and are much more receptive to treatment recommendations. My focus is on the patients, and if their experience is a good one, so is mine."
Heather: "We're not in Kansas any more."
Heather is a dental hygienist with six years of experience. She came from an office in Kansas where they still use film.
"I couldn't believe the difference between film and digital. I routinely take about 160 X-ray images a week. After I came to the new office, I felt like Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz,' because my first thought was, 'I'm sure not in Kansas any more.'" I had so much more time to spend with patients, and I could see two or three more patients a day because I wasn't always running to the developer to process film. It was amazing.
"Back in the office that used film, we didn't even review X-rays with patients. Why bother? They couldn't see them anyway, so we didn't waste their time.
"The most important thing about digital for me is that the radiation exposure is so much lower than film. I was pregnant when I came to the new office, and I was thankful that my exposure was reduced because of digital. Digital radiography is not just a technology, it's a way of life."
Karin: "Digital is never having to say you're sorry."
Karin has been a hygienist for 19 years. She came to a digital office only three months ago, and her only regret is that she didn't make the switch sooner.
"I found out that digital radiography is a legitimate reason to change jobs. If your dentist hasn't installed digital and isn't planning to, I'd advise you to consider looking for an office that is digital. It's that important.
"In our old office, we'd squeeze the trigger but it sometimes wouldn't take the X-ray. We'd have to wait until the film was processed to know if we had an image, and if we didn't, we'd have to take another. Trying to sort out a full-mouth series could be very difficult.
"With root canals, you've got to check your work frequently as you go. Using film X-rays, we routinely scheduled at least two visits per root canal, sometimes three. During each visit, there was a lot of patient 'down time' — sitting and waiting for film to develop.
"Now, we complete a root canal in about an hour. No down time, no return visits. Digital X-ray has revolutionized root canal work. The patients love it. I love it."
Yes, digital radiography is many things to many people. Among the most important are members of dental teams who spend much of their time taking and working with X-rays. Their comments are, to me, invaluable in assessing the positive impact and the benefits of digital radiography on my own practice and on the practice of dentistry in general.
Steve P. Lynch, DMD, is in private practice in Oxford, Ala. Since 1995, he has been teaching dentists, team members, dental students and faculty the applications of lasers and digital radiography. You may reach Dr. Lynch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his Web site at www.lynchdmd.com for more information.