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February is Children's Dental Health Month — the perfect time to focus on making technology count for our young dental patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites tooth decay as affecting children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease. Untreated caries can cause pain and infection as well as problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Getting children to understand that regular dental visits are necessary can be difficult, but technology can be an effective way to get them interested and keep them invested.
Since I have children of my own, I know that the level of youngsters' compliance depends on their level of understanding. It follows that if mom and dad think their child will follow the doctor's orders and if they anticipate successful results, they will be more likely to agree to a treatment plan.
Enter digital radiography. Children growing up in the computer generation can relate to anything on a monitor. So if I hold a small traditional film X–ray up to the light, I probably will be met with a blank stare from child and parent. On the other hand, with my digital X–rays (DEXIS®), any image on my monitor is immediate, large, and detailed. (It also helps that with my digital sensor, X–rays are captured more quickly and comfortably.)
From there on, patient and parent education is as easy as playing a video game. I can enlarge the image, zoom in on part of a tooth, circle problem areas, and even ClearVu™ and colorize the image. I'm still fascinated by the capabilities, and I see it every day!
If two–dimensional digital images already impress my patients, my 3–D cone beam (Gendex GXCB–500™) really makes the teens open their mouths and say, “Wow!” While I can rotate the image and look from any angle imaginable to evaluate its clinical results, they are marveling at the sheer coolness of the 3–D scan.
With a 3–D view, I am privy to much more information, such as the depth and width of the bone and congenitally missing teeth. A 3–D view is particularly helpful when grafting may be necessary prior to implants before orthodontics. Parents don't mind paying for the scan if they know it will save their child from complications later.
Besides radiography, laser technology catches the eyes and ears of young patients. Laser caries detection such as the DIAGNOdent® (KaVo) offers insights into suspicious–looking teeth and prevents over–treatment by avoiding exploratory excavation.
Parents appreciate a “wait–and–see” attitude, especially in this tough economy, and they will return the favor with loyalty and referrals. Catching decay early and following up with sealants, or detecting cavities before they even show up on an X–ray, means less drilling and future discomfort. Kids will learn quickly that a beep from the cavity detector means they may not be brushing properly. This encourages better dental hygiene.
All of these innovative diagnostic tools count toward building a better business out of your practice. We can learn from our younger generation who embrace technology and integrate it into every aspect of their lives. Don't be surprised if, after their appointment, they post some comments about your office on Facebook. Although technology is fun to learn about and use, these machines are not just new toys for the office — they're the building blocks for a successful practice.
Dr. Terry L. Myers is a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry and a member of the Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the Dental Sleep Disorder Society. He has a private practice in Belton, Mo. You may contact Dr. Myers by e–mail at office@keystone–dentistry.com.