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Base dental clinic improves capabilty in areas of time and efficiency by going digital

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Courtney Witt
  • 36th Wing Public Affaris
Team Andersen's Medical Dental Clinic is saying goodbye to film and hello to digital.

The unit's transition from X-ray to digital imagery is saving the Air Force time and money and is freeing more appointments for customers.

Processing and developing X-ray film involves many steps including the use of a dark room and chemicals. The technique took about five minutes per set of X-rays to develop, not including the time technicians spent mounting the images and labeling them with the patients' information.

Then, there are infection control procedures that require each set of film to be handled individually and each film package to be properly disposed.

"Since there was only one dark room with all the developing equipment in it," said Lt. Col. Jesus Sojo, chief of dental services, "we often had technicians waiting their turn to enter and process their film which then added to the doctor's waiting time for the radiographs and could easily become 10 minutes of additional waiting time per set of radiographs waiting to be developed."

In dentistry, time is critical and minutes wasted quickly add up and cascade into the next appointments, said Colonel Sojo.

The equipment required maintenance and support from logistics.

Also, there are special considerations and precautions for handling, cleaning, and disposing of chemicals for film.

Film, once a valuable tool, is now a thing of the past and is being replaced by a much faster, more efficient way of reading X-rays - digital radiology.

"Dental Digital Radiology is revolutionizing our practice," Colonel Sojo said. "The entire process of taking X-rays now takes place in the dental treatment room and takes only a few seconds without having to walk the patient between rooms."

Four dental treatment rooms operate independently. Each has its own Dental Digital Radiology equipment allowing five to six technicians to take X-rays simultaneously.

"This saves time and is immensely more efficient than having to go to one centralized place," said Capt. Benjamin Hall, officer in charge of dental radiology.

Each technician uses a charged coupled device sensor instead of film. The X-ray image is transferred to the computer monitor almost instantaneously. The brightness and contrast of the images can be easily corrected if needed, virtually eliminating the need for retakes due to processing problems.

On average, Dental Digital Radiology will save the clinic about 34 hours per month which translates into 34 additional exams or cleaning appointments. Another advantage of the system is that the sensor requires 80 percent less radiation to capture the image minimizing the exposure to patients, according to Colonel Sojo.

The total cost to the AF for the dental clinic conversion to Dental Digital Radiology was approximately $155,000. However, to Andersen's dental clinic it was worth the cost.

"We have essentially quadrupled our capability in terms of time and efficiency by going digital," Colonel Sojo said.