Using technology responsibly

Being the owner and leader of a dental office, you create the culture within your practice.

Being the owner and leader of a dental office, you create the culture within your practice. It’s important to create a culture that focuses on your practice’s responsibilities to patients. Increasingly, being responsible is tied to the technological innovations you bring to your office.

An ever-growing list of technology-based devices enables us to do everything from manage our practices’ dental records to create crowns on the spot. Which ones provide the greatest benefits to patients, and which ones are nice to have but aren’t critical to responsible care? I think the answer to that question indicates which technology you should consider adopting.

First, let’s talk about things you don’t need to provide the best and most responsible dental services. (The list might surprise you.)

Many of us use computerized, practice-management systems that make billing and scheduling more efficient. For those who have converted to computerized office management, I’m not suggesting that you go back to the old way of doing business. But the term “doing business” describes the role of a computerized office-management system - it aids in conducting the business side of your practice, and it doesn’t help you directly in providing better patient care. If you don’t yet have a computerized, practice-management system, don’t make it your first technology purchase.

In addition to helping us computerize our records, recent clinical technologies such as air abrasion and dental lasers improve clinical outcomes and enhance patient comfort. Extraoral, digital-imaging technologies let patients see results before procedures, which improves case acceptance.

But none of these technologies is a make-or-break innovation in responsible treatment. Only one qualifies for that designation: digital radiography. Before you consider computerizing your records or adding other new technologies to your practice, add digital radiography. I can’t imagine performing dental procedures without it.

You could take away every technology in the office except digital radiography, and you’d still be able to practice dentistry responsibly. My DEXIS digital radiography system is the most important piece of equipment in my practice. It’s the one technology any dental office must have these days to provide the best and most responsible care available.

When you decide to install digital radiography, don’t scrimp. Don’t look for bargains, and don’t buy a “bundled” system - one sold in conjunction with a practice-management system. Look at several options and buy the best one.

The best digital radiography system will interface with whatever practice-management system you use or plan to purchase. Even if you don’t have computerized practice management or don’t plan to install it soon, the digital radiography system you buy needs to be portable and capable of sending images to insurance providers and other dentists.

Look for an easy-to-use interface, one that will enable you to perform most operations with a single mouse click - not one where you have to wade through layers of pull-down menus. And look for powerful image-enhancement features that will help you improve your diagnostic capabilities.

Also, search for a system with a single sensor; it will save you more time than systems that require you to switch back and forth between two or more sensors. Ask your sales rep about sensor comfort features and ratings. Don’t forget to look for a sensor with rounded corners. Your patients will thank you.

Digital radiography is the most important technology for your practice. It’s the one piece of equipment that tells patients you use new technology in the most responsible way.

Dr. Cynthia Brattesani maintains a private practice in San Francisco. She was awarded the prestigious ADA Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award in 1996. She is an enthusiastic member of organized dentistry, having held positions at the local, state, and national levels. You may reach her at

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