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09.16.05 Issue #184  
Tips on Adding Digital Radiography

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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Among the most important decisions many dental practices will make over the coming months and years is not simply whether to buy digital radiography, but which digital radiography system to buy. It’s when you’ve decided that you’re going digital that the fun begins. That’s because you have to sort out all the claims and capabilities of the leading digital radiography vendors to determine which system is best for you. Here are some tips that I think you’ll find helpful in selecting the right digital radiography system.

It’s important to make sure all the components you purchase are compatible with each other. That’s not to say they all need come from the same company to be compatible. In fact, choosing products on merit and not by company insures you’ll make the best decision for you and your practice.

Look at the core competency of the vendor you’re considering. Is digital radiography their main focus? The people who focus on digital radiography do so for a reason, just as those who focus on practice management do so for a reason.  Just as you should purchase the best practice management software, regardless of vendor, it is also imperative that you choose the best digital radiography system.

Simply put, digital radiography is becoming the standard of care in dentistry. It’s the foundation of a modern dental practice, and you should not compromise in the quality of the system you choose simply because you can get a “good deal” from a vendor who’s offering your system “bundled” with other products.

Look for a vendor that concentrates on delivering the highest quality digital radiography system. Period. You can check this by asking these questions: Has the digital radiography system you’re considering received the ADA Seal of Acceptance? How about a four- or five-star rating from Reality Magazine? Is it a top three CRA choice? Look for ‘yes’ answers to these questions.

Product support is another critical area when you’re purchasing a digital radiography system. Does the prospective vendor have a dedicated technical support department? Do they offer on-line technical support? Remote computerized diagnostics?

If your salesperson is also your technical support contact, that’s a sign that you’re not going to be getting the quality of technical support you need. Choose a vendor that has an in-house technical support team that can help you deal with issues when you need to deal with them and in a dedicated, professional manner. And you should choose a vendor that can provide on-site service if you need it.

I’d recommend that you look at the issue of training in the same way. Does your vendor have a dedicated training department? Are the instructors certified and knowledgeable about your dental needs? The answers to both of these questions should be ‘yes’.

A related issue is software updates. When was the last time your prospective vendor updated its digital radiography software? You should choose a vendor that provides frequent software updates.

There are a number of operation questions you also need to ask. Does the new digital radiography system you're considering purchasing enhance and expand what you can do when compared to film? Or does it actually restrict what you can do? There are, for instance, digital radiography systems on the market which may prohibit you from taking vertical bitewing X-rays. The digital radiography system you select should enable you to take all the periapical shots you need.

I also strongly recommend that you “read the fine print”, which is to say, discuss the service level agreement, or warranty, thoroughly with your sales representative. With digital radiography, one of the most important aspects of the agreement can be summed up with this question: "Does the vendor offer overnight replacement of the digital sensor if it malfunctions?" You need to make sure that if your sensor fails, you can get a replacement the next morning, because your practice can't afford to go a day without taking x-rays.

One of the things many dentists have found is that digital radiography can be a big booster to referrals. Patients love the reduced radiation exposure and the fact that they can actually see the X-rays and be involved in treatment planning. They’re also impressed by sensor comfort. Try the sensor in your own mouth to find out if it’s comfortable.

Finally, consider the value of the system when you’re making your decision. In most cases, the lowest priced system is not necessarily the best value. I’ve mentioned that you should choose a system that is recognized by the ADA and other important certifying agencies, and one that provides patient comfort and stimulates referrals, as well as one that enables you to take all the X-rays necessary for your practice. If you follow those recommendations, you’ll purchase or lease a system that will provide the best long-term value for your practice. That’s the bottom line when you’re adding digital radiography to your practice.

If you have any question or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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