The Key Questions to Ask When Researching Digital Sensor Technology

The simplicity of digital capture has made it one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing technologies in dentistry.

by Dr. James Jesse

In today’s hectic world, not a day goes by without just about everyone hearing, reading, or talking with someone about the “greening of America.” It has become a national pastime for many Americans to work diligently at ways to make the environment better for themselves and for their children.

So, why not expect health-care providers to strive for a safer, healthier life for people everywhere as well? Why not narrow down the focus specifically on dentistry? Dentists diagnose and treat problems with teeth and tissues in the mouth, along with giving advice and administering care to help prevent future problems. They also provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, the use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care. They remove tooth decay, fill cavities, examine X-rays, place protective plastic sealants on children’s teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth.

Let’s narrow the focus more and talk about X-rays. Yes, it’s true that the amount of radiation to which patients are exposed is minimal in the grand scheme of things, but it is radiation just the same. Nowadays, safety to patients and staff should be a primary concern when dentists select equipment to outfit their operatories. With the advent of digital technologies to capture and evaluate images, there are many choices in the dental marketplace.

Just a few short years ago, the standard of care was film-based X-ray exposure. Nowadays the standard is quickly moving toward digital sensor technologies to rapidly capture and almost instantaneously view and diagnose anomalies in patients’ mouths. The simplicity of digital capture has made it one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing technologies in dentistry. There are many intraoral sensor technologies available on the market today. Some boast the best image quality; some boast the most comfortable; and some boast the best price. Why not determine buying preference based on the SAFEST technology – one that can assure the safety of staff and patients, especially children, with regard to excess radiation exposure.

When determining which sensor technology to purchase, make sure you are dealing with a company that puts all its energies and expertise in just that – providing a product that minimizes radiation exposure while still producing diagnostic quality images for proper treatment and case planning. Make sure that radiation safety rises to the top of the attributes of the sensors you are considering.

In the news, we see more and more concern about radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging. In dentistry we are in a bind; we need to collect data for clinical evaluation, but we also need to be aware of the ALARA principle – As Low As Reasonably Achievable. When researching digital sensor technology for your practice, be sure to ask about whether or not the sensors you are considering are designed with minimal radiation exposure in mind. Ask about the components of the sensor – pixel size, scintillator and fiber-optic technologies – a piece of everything, so to speak. It’s each of these technologies combined together that provide diagnostic quality images that also rate high in the safety category.

Let me explain a bit more. Pixel size relates directly to the quality of the resultant image. Usually, the smaller the pixel size, the higher the resolution of the image. But the higher the resolution, the more “noise” factors into the image, and it may appear a bit more grainy than one would expect. Adding a scintillator to a sensor helps to minimize noise, which creates a better image. So, how does a scintillator work? When a scintillator interacts with radiation, it generates light, which is then transmitted to the sensor chip, resulting in the exposed image. Lastly is the fiber-optic plate. This plate allows visible light to pass to the sensor chip where the image is formed, but it does so in such a way that any excess X-rays are not permitted to pass. A perfect combination of each of these technologies can create a sensor that rates high in both image quality and safety because it minimizes exposure to extraneous and potentially harmful X-rays. This is the basis of any sensor development. These are topics that you should know about and that you should be asking questions about. After all, if we are careful about the enamel we remove, we need to be just as careful about the amount of radiation we expose our patients to.

Dr. James Jesse graduated from Loma Linda University in Southern California in 1973. He has been in private practice in Colton, Calif., for the past 31 years and is an assistant professor at Loma Linda.

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