Possibly the most inefficient tool in an operatory...

Over the past few years it’s become familiar to see an intraoral camera in a dentist’s office. In most cases, dental professionals felt they had to have one despite not knowing how to use this piece of equipment to its full potential. While there are certain scenarios when an intraoral camera is a useful tool, The Bridge Network believes dental offices shouldn’t feel obligated to purchase equipment they find too intimidating or challenging to use. With the recent advancements made to digital photography as well as imaging software (similar to that of The Bridge Network’s ChairSide Imaging), taking better quality intra oral images can be faster and easier by using a simple macro camera rather than an Intraoral Camera.

Better Quality Image?

Consider these 8 images below:

These were taken using a Schick USB Intraoral Camera during an actual new patient’s exam. While the pictures are good quality for an intraoral camera, a closer look at these images when compared to the photos below that were taken with a macro camera (see article for more information on point and shoot vs. Digital SLR ‘macro’ cameras the difference in quality is marginal.

Which image looks better?

What about these two images of a patient’s upper arch? Which image best shows the attrition?

A digital point-and-shoot camera was used to take the top image and a high-end intraoral camera was used for the bottom image. Are these photos of the same quality? Not really and here’s a reason why: the resolution of an image taken with an intraoral camera can only be as high as 640X480 pixels, or 0.3 mega-pixels, however, images from a digital camera can be much higher. Also, the lens, the flash and the general construction of digital camera is much better than the technology used for the specialized, much-smaller intraoral camera made expressly for the dental community. As well, some intraoral cameras can create `fisheye distortion.’

Much quicker ‘Zooming in’

Better image quality is not the only reason why digital cameras are an advantage over intraoral cameras. Another important point to consider is the time involved taking photos using an intraoral camera. It can take a dentist several minutes to take one photo, but with the ease of a point-and-shoot camera, and the aid of standard occlusal mirror, any staff member can take pictures of upper and lower arches and put them into ChairSide Imaging before the dentist even sees the patient. The dentist can start the exam by looking at the photographs in full view or simply zoom in on any area of the mouth if a closer look of a specific tooth or a selection of teeth is required. If there is an area of concern the dentist feels needs documenting, CSI’s “cut-out image” tool can quickly take a copy of it within seconds. The above-image was a ‘cut out’ from the lower arch image below. (Tagging the image with tooth numbers will ensure that the teeth show up correctly in ChairSide Charting).

To see this more of this, please refer to the following Video: Much Quicker 'Zooming in' With a better quality image, CSI`s Magnify Glass tool can be used to zoom in and highlight even more areas of the mouth. This is not really possible with a photo taken with an intraoral camera.

When Intraoral Cameras are useful

There are times when a digital camera will not be convenient and this may happen when a dentist wants to take images during a procedure. When an intraoral camera is connected to a computer, it’s usually easier and faster to use it to take pictures. With the advances in computer technology, software and less-expensive storage costs, dentists are now documenting cases and procedures with a series of intraoral camera images. After all, since a picture is worth a thousand words this is a great way to document dental procedures, assist in insurance approvals and it can also provide protection from potential lawsuits.

The intraoral camera is also useful in cases, albeit rare cases, when images are needed from a particular angle that may be difficult to get with a digital camera and mirror. Some offices also use the intraoral camera as an effective tool for the patient to explore their own dental condition.

Wanting to be “connected”

Since some intraoral computers are hard-wired to a computer, some practitioners see this as an advantage in the operatory. As soon as a picture is taken it automatically appears on the screen and gets stored into the patient’s imaging file. This can be a huge benefit since digital cameras usually need to be connected to a computer and the images downloaded. But it’s worth mentioning that if photos are taken using a digital camera before a new patient exam the staff can easily download the images into CSI mounts before the appointment. As well, some digital cameras already have the ability to wirelessly send pictures to a computer and with continued advances in digital technology a special memory card made compatible to many standard digital cameras will, eventually, also allow you to do this. While this technology is still in the testing phase, The Bridge Network thinks this could be an important advancement in making digital photography in the dental office even more efficient. For more information, follow this link: www.eye.fi.

The purpose of this article is to make you think about how you use technology in the operatory, how to get the best value from your investment that not only includes the cost of the equipment, but the time and benefit it provides.

Updated Perspective - A Few Years Later

The original article was written when intraoral cameras were thousands of dollars and we found it hard to justify this. We believe in value, and felt strongly that a digital camera and the right software was not only chepar but a far superior value. Fast forward to 2009 and intraoral cameras can still set you back $5000-$8000, but can also be found for under $1000. And the quality of these inexpensive cameras rivals the best cameras available a few years ago. How does this change the value equation? Well, a digital camera is still a better value if you had to chose one or the other. No question about it. However, given that a digital camera and an intraoral camera can now both fit in around the $2000 mark, it makes a lot of sense to have both.

Something that is relatively new and exciting about intraoral cameras are the caries detection capabilities. Sopro and Air Techniques (and possiblly others) are bringing new cameras that use fluorescence technology. These are not considered in the scope of this article.

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