Digital Sensors 360º: A sense of how far sensors have come

March 26, 2015

I remember back in the mid-1990s, I was working with a company that was trying to bring a fairly new dental technology to market. That technology was digital radiography and back then, it required a Herculean effort to even begin to get it to work. I spent countless hours tearing apart computers and adding parts that would allow the sensors to communicate with the computer.

I remember back in the mid-1990s, I was working with a company that was trying to bring a fairly new dental technology to market. That technology was digital radiography and back then, it required a Herculean effort to even begin to get it to work. I spent countless hours tearing apart computers and adding parts that would allow the sensors to communicate with the computer.

One of my most vivid memories of that process is the time I pressed the exposure button and actually saw a radiograph magically appear on the computer screen. It was awesome! From that moment on I was hooked on digital x-rays and never looked back. Sure back then the technology required a lot of effort just to get it to work, but I could see immediately that the benefits far outweighed the problems.

Fast forward to today, where the process of digital radiography is simple, reliable and provides images that are nothing short of amazing. At this point in time if you’re still using film, the long shadow of Father Time is gaining on you…faster than you can probably imagine.

To put it succinctly, digital radiography is no longer a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when."

Entire issues of magazines have been devoted to the subject of digital x-ray, and it’s a pretty hefty subject, but unfortunately I don’t have that much space. So this article will be devoted to the subject of digital sensors.

Digital sensors are extremely reliable and provide images that are incredibly diagnostic and high-resolution. They are basically a chip, similar to what you would find in a digital camera, encased in a hard plastic covering that’s sealed to prevent damage from any type of liquid. While early versions sometimes used proprietary connectors to attach to the computer, almost all of today’s digital sensors attach to the computer via USB. Some even have done away with the wire and communicate with the computer via a wireless protocol.

The product category has matured to a point that all name brand sensors provide beautiful clinical images. The most important part of the decision-making/purchasing process lies mainly in integration with your practice management software and the products that your dealer of choice carries.

Some doctors prefer “total integration,” which entails running the digital sensor through practice management software. This has the benefit of using one program to access all patient data and also can make backups easier to perform. If this is your preference, your sensor choices are limited to those that interface well with whatever management software you use. In these situations, I would advise doctors to begin the sensor choice process by contacting their software company and finding out directly from them what sensors work well with their system. “Total Integration” has the advantage of only using one program (and perhaps streamlining the workflow a bit), but also comes with the disadvantage of limiting your sensor choices to ones that work well with the practice management software.

If the idea of “total integration” isn’t important to you, your sensor choices aren’t restricted. In this scenario, a separate program is used to take, store and access digital x-ray images. Because the imaging program is standalone and doesn’t need to interface with the practice management software, doctors can choose whichever sensor they like best.