The 4 C's of digital radiography

As dentists continue to improve their technology systems, few areas are generating as much interest as digital radiography.

Lorne Lavine, DMD

As dentists continue to improve their technology systems, few areas are generating as much interest as digital radiography. Many of the benefits have been outlined in previous articles, such as the elimination of chemicals and processors, the reduction in radiation, and the ability to include the patient in the diagnostic process.

Unfortunately, the process of choosing the right sensor for each dentist can become an exercise in frustration. All of the systems are capable of producing diagnostic images, so how does an office choose? While many vendors would recommend that you consider resolution first, there are many other factors to consider. Since the process of purchasing a digital system often requires the same amount of thought as buying a diamond, I think this makes a good analogy. Shopping for diamonds requires you to consider the “4 C’s” - carat, color, cut, and clarity. There are also “4 C’s” for choosing digital radiography: comfort, compatibility, company, and of course, cost.

Comfort

While some companies would have you believe that the thinner the sensor, the more comfortable it is, that has not been my experience. Many of the complaints from patients are with those thinner sensors. A few factors have a direct impact on comfort. The edges of the sensor are something that should be evaluated, because this is what patients tend to feel. Also, since sensors require unique positioning systems, these can have more of an effect on comfort than anything else. Almost all systems come with a RINN-style positioner, but there are other systems, such as Wingers (http://www.steri-shield.com/wingers.htm) and Sensor-Stik (http://www.dentequip.com/).

Compatibility

Many offices already are using image-management software for storing images, such as from intraoral cameras, digital cameras, or scanners. Some of these are integrated with the practice-management software, and some are free-standing. It is crucial when considering digital radiography to choose an image-management program before choosing a sensor. Many dentists prefer to have all their images stored in the same software. Therefore, if an office is already using an image program, it will be limited to whatever system is compatible with that software. In a perfect world, it would be easy to switch to another imaging program, but it is rarely that easy. To do so requires conversion of the images into the new program, and this is often difficult, if not impossible. So, dentists choosing digital radiography systems will need to evaluate their software situation first.

Company

Primarily due to the growing popularity of digital radiography, there has been an explosion in the number of companies offering sensor systems ... and this number is growing! While some are backed by large dental supply companies such as Kodak, Schein, and Patterson, many are from smaller companies with less financial resources or track records. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a system from a small company - the service and support is often excellent and their products are on par with others out there. However, some companies have gone out of business in the past few years, and dentists should understand all of the risks in buying a lesser-known product. Another good sign of a company’s ability and willingness to support their products is the length of the warranty. While a few only offer one-year warranties, some vendors now offer five-year warranties. As a caveat, though, these warranties usually only cover manufacturer’s defects, not damage, and should be supplemented with the office’s equipment insurance policy.

Cost

Finally, cost cannot be ignored - it’s typically given as the main reason why some offices do not purchase a digital system. A basic single-sensor system starts at around $5,000, and can go as high as $14,000. Phosphor-plate systems run from about $10,000 to $20,000. Often overlooked, however, is the infrastructure needed to run these systems. Besides computers in the operatories, dentists need to consider a dedicated server, monitors, monitor mounts, wireless keyboards and mice, ink jet printers, backup devices - and the list goes on endlessly. Offices need to be aware of all the anticipated costs of “going digital,” keeping in mind the cost of the sensors is usually less than the hardware needed to run these systems.

By taking the time to review the different digital-radiography systems, dentists can avoid a very expensive mistake.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by email at drlavine@thedigitaldentist.com or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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