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Dental goes digital

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Airman 1st Class Paul Brown, 354th Medical Operations Squadron dental technician, explains the difference between film and digital dental X-rays at the base dental clinic Wednesday morning. The digital X-rays provide options unavailable with film, such as colorization, zooming and magnification of X-rayed areas. If a film X-ray is too dark or light, it must be retaken, while digital X-rays can be adjusted accordingly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Gloria Wilson)

Airman 1st Class Paul Brown, 354th Medical Operations Squadron dental technician, demonstrates the difference between film and digital dental X-rays at the base dental clinic. The digital X-rays provide additional options to technicians, such as colorization, zooming and magnification of X-rayed areas. The new technology eliminates the need to retake X-rays if the X-ray is too dark or light. The digital X-rays can be adjusted accordingly. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Gloria Wilson)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- With the invention of the internet, information can be accessed at the click of a button. Songs, pictures and computer files can be placed on a flash drive and fit in the palm of a hand. Technological advancements are ongoing and the world has proven time and time again, if it can be imagined, it can be made.

Eielson's dental clinic is currently transitioning to one such advancement.

The clinic has begun using digital dental X-rays approximately 98 percent of the time instead of film X-rays and will be 100 percent digital in the near future.

The plan is to have the entire Air Force change to digital and the process is happening in phases. Pacific Air Forces is in phase one, said Technical Sgt. Ronald Jones, 354th Medical Operations Squadron dental technician.

Patients still have to "open wide" and "bite down," but instead of biting down on dental X-ray film, they close their mouths around digital sensors.

"There are many benefits that come with the change to digital," said Sergeant Jones. "You can manipulate digital images on a computer, make them lighter or darker and even zoom in on an area.

Long-term cost will be less, man hours will be saved; it is faster, easier and more readily accessible."

Another great benefit is the elimination of hazardous materials waste.

"There is lead foil in film, a hazardous material that must be disposed of properly and chemicals are used for developing film," Sergeant Jones said.

"Not only is the process shorter with digital because this has been eliminated, but technicians will no longer have to be exposed to the chemicals used with film," he said.
Technicians will also benefit from less exposure to radiation as will patients since digital X-rays have less radiation than film ones.

Decreased patient wait time, e-mail capability, and less storage space for X-rays are even more benefits people can look forward to.

"We can now view digital images in mere seconds versus the five or more minutes it usually takes for film," Sergeant Jones said.

"Also the click of a button can send the X-rays downtown or to Iraq, anywhere where there is a computer with Internet access. Transport is easier too as you can save the images on anything used to store computer files."

Capt. Ted Winright, 354th Medical Support Squadron medical information systems flight commander, said he thinks the new digital capabilities and benefits to the technicians, patients, dentists and the environment are great and looks forward to future advancements such as this one.

"In today's age, people want things fast--people want accessibility and ease of use. This conversion to digital X-rays is just one of the many ways to give it to them," he said.