So, what do you do with that?” asked the new patient, whom I was showing around the office (Figure 1).
“It is our exciting, new digital x-ray system,” I replied. “You are going to like this.”
DIGITAL RADIOGRAPHY HAS ADVANCED SIGNIFICANTLY
Figure 1. A digital x-ray system in a dental office.
|Figures 2a and 2b. A patient having a digital x-ray taken by a hygienist.|
|Figure 3. Image of a calibration tool over a digital x-ray.|
My first experience with digital x-rays was several years ago. I was standing in for a colleague in another office who was going on maternity leave. I have always been adept at learning new tools and procedures, so I regarded this as a great opportunity to learn something new.
TAKING DIGITAL X-RAYS IS SIMPLE
Shooting digital x-rays is the same as film-based x-rays in almost all respects. A digital sensor substitutes for a piece of film, and it is positioned in the patient’s mouth just as we do with film. The x-ray cone is pointed at the patient and the button is pressed. We must take all the same precautions as we do with film x-rays (lead apron for the patient, step out of the room, etc) (Figures 2a and 2b).
CLINICAL DIAGNOSIS IS EASIER
A principal role of the hygienist is to prepare the x-rays for the doctor’s review and diagnosis. Consider what goes into this activity. We must check the x-ray images for integrity of image quality and positioning accuracy, and we also have a responsibility for bringing probable clinical problems to the dentist’s attention. Digital x-rays make review and diagnosis work so much easier. The images are displayed on a large computer monitor (15” to 18” LCD flat panels are best, but if you do choose a conventional CRT, don’t buy anything smaller than a 17” screen). If the brightness or contrast needs to be adjusted, this can be accomplished instantly.
ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS ARE MUCH IMPROVED
We all know how much time can be spent running around looking for lost patient files. The advances in practice management software from many companies have changed our lives permanently for the better in this regard. So, what about all that time spent running around looking for lost x-rays? No matter how good our filing systems are, we all lose images from time to time—isn’t that true? With digital x-ray systems you don’t lose images. They are all stored neatly by patient, arranged by date and tooth number. And, with several of the systems, you can also store panoramic images and intraoral and extraoral photographic images as well. Back them up to another storage medium overnight for safety. Select them from the central database (often located on the main network server), and there they are.
PROVIDE BETTER EDUCATION TO YOUR PATIENTS
Hygienists are born teachers. We love to help, show, demonstrate, and explain. It’s in our nature. We sell the services of our practice by educating our patients. And we love it. So when we find a tool that allows us to explain things more straightforwardly to our patients, it is natural that we gravitate to wanting to use that tool more and more. It is difficult to educate using a piece of x-ray film. On the other hand, with a digital x-ray system and a good quality monitor (preferably a flat panel in front of the patient), you will have plenty to talk about.
“Thank you for taking so much time to show me around,” says my new patient as we head into the operatory and she takes her seat in the chair. “You really have a great office, and I can just sense your enthusiasm and passion for what you do. I know I am in good hands.”
Ms. Naba is a practicing hygienist, licensed in the state of New York. She has worked in multiple specialty and general practices, and as a consultant specializing in setting up new practices, OSHA trainings, and implementation of practice management systems. Ms. Naba was formerly director of operations for The New York Dental Forum, a continuing education organization for dentists in New York. She can be reached at SamNaba@aol.com.