On the front lines


March 15, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com Web Exclusive On the front lines Military uses Planmeca x-ray equipment all over the world to help diagnose, treat dental situations. 

March 15, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com
Web Exclusive

On the front lines

Military uses Planmeca x-ray equipment all over the world to help diagnose, treat dental situations. 

by Stan Goff, Executive Editor 

Photo: Courtesy of the US Army 

The last thing anyone wants is to have one of their soldiers in combat be distracted by a dental emergency, or to be unavailable to serve due to dental problems. 

Spending too much time diagnosing soldiers’ oral health or searching for misplaced paper records also aren’t high on anyone’s wish lists. That’s why Planmeca’s agreement to provide its dental x-ray equipment to United States military bases all across the country and around the world is great for both the Roselle, Ill.-based dental manufacturer and for those serving in the armed forces. ProMax is the x-ray equipment of choice for the entire Department of Defense (DOD).

In much the same way dental practices have shifted to digital x-ray and paperless offices in recent years, the country’s military bases have made the switch-first with the Army bases and then with the Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force.

Digital records

Planmeca’s Michelle L. Bottino, RHS, US Government/Direct Sales, says the digital transition was a must in terms of helping track records for all the service men and women, especially since they are regularly changing locations.

“Around 2004, the military decided it wanted to take everything to digital,” she said. “What were told at that time was that about 30 percent of the film-based dental records were lost each year, from soldiers transferring from one base to another. A 30 percent record loss is really, really high.”

Bottino said these misplaced records often came about because soldiers might have the same name, or would be transferred to another base or the paper records just ended up on the wrong desk. So once the Army was up to speed on the benefits of digital x-rays and paperless records, it just made too much sense not to convert.

“The idea of going digital when we presented it, was that it would eliminate that record loss,” she said. “The Army for example has one database for all of their soldiers for all of their dental records. So no matter what base the guy or gal goes to, the record will be there. That was the big key that we started to present to them as to why we wanted to help them go digital.”

Planmeca, along with software, intraoral sensor and computer vendors, began helping the Army convert to digital back in 2004. It took more than a year to complete the process, but now every dental clinic in the United States Army has gone digital and uses Planmeca ProMax x-ray equipment.

The 80-base Air Force conversion is currently taking place, and Bottino said there are approximately 18 more bases around the world that will be included in the project.

“We work with a team of people,” said Bottino, whose job often requires late night phone conversions with clinics around the world. “The Air Force is using a turn-key company called Force 3 to organize the entire roll out. It’s Planmeca providing all of the x-ray equipment. There’s another company that provides the computers, a company that provides the software and another provider that sends the intraoral sensors.”

This group of companies communicates with the facilities, and in the case of the Air Force, works closely with an Air Force leadership group to coordinate schedules.

“Force 3 sets up the dates with the clinic, we have multiple review calls and we all roll in within a two-week period of time and completely digitize them,” Bottino said. “The team brings in computers, they bring in software, they network everything. We bring in our equipment and we teach them how to use it. It’s like a massive overhaul at every base.”

Currently the project is assisting clinics in the United Kingdom, with Turkey, Italy and Germany conversions to follow.

“We are honored to assist the Air Force with this transition,” said Byron Love, Director of Federal Services Project Management Office for Force 3. “We have been told that deploying our solution is the most critical change to Air Force dentistry in the history of the Air Force Dental Corps. The solution we are deploying touches every member of the Air Force both now and in the foreseeable future, and we are proud of the role we have played.”

Bottino oversees the overseas projects from her desk at the Planmeca facility in Roselle, but has had the opportunity to meet a number of military clinic staff members who are thankful to have access to the latest x-ray technology.

“I don’t get to go anywhere cool I just get to liaison the whole thing from my desk here in Illinois,” she joked. “That’s the excitement of it.”

But it can be exciting too, to see the gratitude expressed by those thankful to get their hands on a ProMax system that can help them do their job and better care for the service men and women.

“There’s a big military conference called AMSUS. I go to the AMSUS conference and people come up to me from everywhere,” said Bottino, who is engaged to a soldier. “They say, ‘Hey, you just rolled out our equipment and it’s great to have.’ It’s a really uplifting feeling.

“The most important part of government business is that we’re taking care of the soldier.”

Air Force consultant shares other benefits

Retired Air Force dentist Dr. Dennis D. Stuckey has worked closely with Planmeca and Michelle Bottino on the Air Force’s digital conversion and backs up the importance of electronic record keeping and the speed of digital x-rays. But he also points out another big plus to going digital - reduced radiation exposure.

“The Air Force Dental Service is completing its transformation into the ‘digital age’ this year as we are finishing a multi-year deployment of digital dental radiology (DDRS) equipment and training to over 80 locations worldwide with the assistance of our vendor partners,” said Colonel (Dr.) Stuckey, USAF (ret.), Senior Consultant AF Digital Dental Radiology. “This will make the Air Force clinics 100% digital capable which allows our providers to acquire and view high quality images quickly with less radiation exposure to our patients. The images then can archived centrally to allow them to be shared between locations across the world or shared between services, added to electronic dental records and eventually follow the patients into the Veteran’s Affairs system.”

Additionally, Dr. Stuckey points out that switching from film allows the military to do away with chemicals involved in processing and this saves both time and money.

“It’s really all about improving the quality of care for our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airman that the Air Force Medical Service funded and supported this project which allows us to provide seamless and high quality dental care anywhere,” he said. “Standardized software and dental equipment save training and maintenance costs in an organization where the rapid turn over of personnel is a fact of life. Large numbers of new accessions to the service or active duty or Reserve units can be screened quickly prior to training or short notice deployments.

“A secondary but important benefit of the conversion to digital radiography from the ‘wet-film’ radiographs is the saving of the cost for the processing chemicals, lead and silver containing byproducts and their safe disposal. Less chemicals into the environment translates into a healthier world for all of us. We really appreciate how Michelle Bottino, the Planmeca team, and all of our dental industry partners have supported the Air Force DDRS program across the world-they really epitomize the best of customer service and support for all our armed forces.” Efficiency 

While the ability to easily store and share electronic files is critical, Bottino said the speed in which the Planmeca systems produce high-quality images also is critical in regards to getting soldiers deployed in a timely basis.

With the Planmeca ProMax x-ray system, users can do a standard panoramic x-ray for an overall health of the patient, and the system also allows for extraoral bitewing images that provide a better diagnosis of gross caries.

“Cavities are what can cause that emergency situation to pop up in the next 12 months,” Bottino said of the importance of quickly and accurately diagnosing soldiers before they are sent out. “So they can do two images in about a minute as opposed to about 20 minutes in the old way of taking a full mouth series of intraoral images.
It’s a huge time-savings.”

When you’re talking about such a large scale, saving that much time with each patient adds up big time. For example, Planmeca and the other vendors are in the process of converting the rather large California Navy base at Camp Pendleton, which has 22 dental clinics in California.

“That is a lot of equipment, and a lot of bodies being mobilized. The time savings is immeasurable,” she said.
Bottino said Planmeca worked with Patterson Dental in converting the Coast Guard bases to digital last year. While many of the Veteran’s Affairs facilities already have gone digital, Planmeca is helping the final ones make the conversion.

Once again, the benefits of this technology really play a role in helping deploy troops around the world.

“The ProMax x-ray can do extraoral bitewing images and extraoral bitewing images make it so that when you can’t take an intraoral image you can still diagnose caries from a panoramic x-ray and that’s huge,” Bottino said. “The military, their whole role is to get the soldier from entry into the field. That’s what they want to do. They’re trying to deploy these guys. And they can’t deploy them unless their dental health is in good standing.”

With the help of this technology, the military clinics can quickly diagnose and classify the soldiers based on their dental health.

“At first I had no idea that dental health was actually a criteria for whether or not you’re deployable into the military,” Bottino admitted. “But you want the soldier to be in a classification that says they’re not likely to have any kind of dental emergency in the next 12 months. If they have too many soldiers classified in a non-deployable state than they don’t have enough bodies to meet their mission overseas.”

Standard training is another benefit

Another plus to having just one x-ray choice throughout the DOD is that once you are trained to work with and maintain the ProMax system, you will be prepared to do so regardless of where the government deploys you.

“The equipment support team, the Biomedical maintenance, they’ve all been trained on the same equipment,” Bottino said. “So if a guy gets transferred from Ft. Sam to Ft. Leonard Wood, the equipment is going to be the same. He’s already been trained to work on it and he doesn’t have to learn something new.”

The same goes for the x-ray technicians. “For the person who takes the image…if that person was trained at Ft. Sam and she gets sent off to Ft. Briggs, well does she have to learn all new equipment again? Of course not because we put the same x-ray in every single dental clinic in the country so there’s less training involved. You get trained one time and everything’s going to be the same no matter where you go throughout the military.”

Bottino said the Navy recently flew in someone to learn how to install and maintain the ProMax systems to use in Afghanistan. It’s projects like this, she said, that make her feel good about her job.

“The Navy just ordered a piece of equipment for an undisclosed location in Afghanistan because they know if somebody does have a tooth emergency they have to be able to take a record,” she said. “We actually had to ship the equipment and a send a guy to Maryland, and one of the techs from Afghanistan was flown in to be taught how to install and maintain the equipment. Then it’s being shipped to this undisclosed location so that they can have this equipment help them out in the field.

“It’s kind of a feel good thing. We have the best equipment out there and it is not the cheapest. So what we’re giving to the soldiers is something they may not get in the private sector, but in the military they deserve to have it. So they do get it and they are treated very, very well. I’m excited about that. It makes me feel good that we have some small part in bettering the soldiers.”

Stan Goff is executive editor for DPR. Contact him at sgoff@advanstar.com. 


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