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Imagine Yourself Imaging!

Years ago at several meetings I viewed with awe the computers and programs that allowed a person to take a picture of a patients teeth and magically create a simulation of what that same patient could look like after dental restorative work had been complete. It seemed like the ultimate in technology to help convince patients of what they were missing by not letting me do what I could do so well: restore their beautiful smiles. One small problem presented itself. The cost was very prohibitive. If I remember correctly, costs were in the $15,000 area. I just couldn't justify that kind of money for the few cases per year that I would probably be able to complete because of the addition of the new technology. But, as my wife would say, if I really want something I can figure out a way to justify any purchase.

Well, I didn't quite justify the $15,000 but I was persistent enough to find out about the technology and put together a system that could image for about 40% of the commercial systems cost. I even offered to share how to put together that system with other dentists for hardly any profit on my part. I have been using that system for about 4 years now. That system was the state of the art for the initial imaging systems. I used an off the shelf video camera, computer, Tempra software, and Targa capture board. The capture board is the critical component of the system. Targa boards do an excellent job of capturing a video image to your computer. They also redisplay that image or modified image to a TV or TV monitor (Note: Not a computer monitor) Herein lies my frustration. Two monitors were necessary and I could only work with images on the computer equipped with a Targa board priced at $2,000 for the board.

Let's move ahead to current times with my entire office networked. Each opertory has its own computer and monitor. My software (Dentrix) has all my patient charting etc. all integrated. I am using intraoral cameras with print outs possible but no conversion or storage on a computer. Yes, I could make a mobile cart with the computer containing the Targa board and two monitors into the Op with the intraoral camera and printer. At this point I would have more monitors gadgets and computers than people. I would have to connect a multitude of connectors, plugs, crank up the software etc. In a nutshell, it wasn't going to happen. One solution was to have an imaging center. We could use existing equipment! Cart the patient around, not the equipment. The downside was we couldn't have the patient sit and stare at the broken down molar while they decided whether to do a crown or patch up amalgam. We still couldn't display the image on any other computers on the network unless we converted the image (big loss in quality) or bought a Targa board for each computer (big bucks).

We have decided to go with an imaging center. Now I needed to find a capture board for direct capture to computer displayed on the computer screen. I tried several types of capture devices advertised in popular software and hardware mail order houses. A direct capture from camera to computer was difficult at best. The picture was hard to see when you were taking it and the capture rate was usually only 1/30 of a second, too slow. This slow capture rate made for blurring of the image and in general poor picture quality.

(I hate to do this, but my wife is going to kill me if I just give away this tip that will save you at least $1000 or more like $4-5,000. She tells me, and I might add she is correct, that figuring this all out including trying all this equipment, computers, time etc. has cost me a fortune. She also wants me to pay for the cost of these web pages. The workshop will include how to capture and actually modify the images to enhance your case acceptance for practically pennies.)

So much for the blatant AD. Now to the second problem of using imaging in your practice. We solved the cost problem. Problem #2 is the time and skill problem. Yes, it takes time to modify images then show them to the patient. But with a few simple tricks you can do most cases in about 5 minutes of you or your assistant's time.

Lastly, what can I use this imaging for in my practice? You can make a picture file for each patient so your staff can recognize that patient in the waiting room. Not whisper "is that Mrs. Jones?" I take all my ortho records with my imaging systems. Not only does this technique cost less than film but the biggest advantage is that we can see if we obtained a quality picture right now not wait for weeks for the roll to be developed only to find out that the light was wrong, the patient moved, or the angle showed nothing! You can take before and after pictures of your cases for documentation and to show other patients. With these images you can easily construct your own patient education slides shows on your computer. Lastly, you can modify images to simulate treatment results.

One of the best of the later uses I have found is illustrating to a patient why 4 veneers with slight orthodontic movement might look much better that just doing two centrals to close a diastema. I think every time I show the patient the difference in appearance they do 4 with ortho rather than 2 without ortho.

Well happy imaging!

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