Digital radiography: Step out of the dark

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Digital radiography: Step out of the dark

Carla Gantz, RDH

Carla Gantz, RDH

Mon. 4 October 2010


Are you in love with your dark room? Does the team fight over who ‘gets to clean’ the processor? Will it break their hearts when they learn that they’ll never have to change the solutions again? What about the controlled panic when someone realizes, ‘We’re out of film!’

How many times have you gathered up your X-rays to mount only to discover these films are not your patient’s?

So why are you still using film?

I’ve been in dentistry for 27 years — 14 years as an extended duty dental assistant and the last 13 years as an RDH. I can relate to the above, as the saying goes: ‘Been there, done that.’

Nine months ago, I changed to a chartless practice, which means digital radiography. What are my thoughts about going digital? I love it!

Please allow me to share some of my experiences, and hopefully, enlighten you about the benefits of digital radiography.

A little advice

We all learn from our mistakes so please learn from me. When using Eaglesoft software, you will need to pull up the X-ray section on the computer before you step out of the room and press the button, then to return and realize ‘zilch.’

Unless you are using a wireless sensor, the sensors are attached with a cable that connects to your computer. Don’t put the cable between you and the door.

Create this vision in your mind: I place the sensor in my patient’s mouth, ask him to bite down, turn for the door and then notice that the only way I’m making the door is by doing the limbo.

My first few of patients had the pleasure of watching me turn various shades of red when I realized my blunder.

Reasons to go digital

Some offices are not chartless, but have gone digital for other reason, such as the ability to e-mail radiographs to insurance companies and other professionals, instant images and an end to the dark room.

Ask the front office team how many times they’ve received a phone call from the insurance company requesting another X-ray? If you are still using conventional radiography and if you are not taking duplicates, you have nothing to send. With digital, no problem; we can send as many as they need.

Remember the hassle of rummaging through the chart whenever you want to compare X-rays? With digital, it’s just one click and presto! You have a list of all X-rays. Moreover, just think — you did this without changing your gloves.

Just like learning anything new, there is a short learning curve. You will need to ask for help more than once. We sometimes think, “Oh, I’ve been shown once I can do this.” There are no stupid questions compared to: “What happened to my X-ray?” The answer is: “Did you remember to save?”

Adjunct products

Because digital sensors are thicker than conventional film, you will need to purchase some products to keep your patients comfortable.

If you choose to take the disposable route, may I suggest you check out DENTSPLY Rinn? DENTSPLY offers a disposable holder call the Uni-Grip.

The Uni-Grip is designed to take a full mouth series with just one holder. It works with any #1 or #2 sensor or phosphor plate, is easy to attach, uses color-coding to ensure correct positioning and may be discarded when done.

DENTSPLY also makes the XCP-DS sensor position system that is fully steam autoclavable. The aiming rings, bite pieces and arms are all color-coded, not only to ensure correct positioning but also to save time with assembling (and we all need to save time).

Also, check out DENTSPLY’S XCP-DS disposable cord holder. It snaps on the side of the arm and holds that unruly, crazy cable.

Some people are not fond of the XCP position system, so test out the Eezee-Grip and the Snap-A-Ray holders that are available. The Eezee-Grip has a nice little cushion bite pad. It’s universal and all you do is insert the sensor and squeeze.

The Snap-A-Ray works like the conventional Snap-A-Ray film holder but will not accommodate the Schick CDR Elite sensor.

Infection control

With conventional radiography you discard the film backing and autoclave the XCP or Snap-A-Ray. With a digital sensor, you can use it repeatedly. Thus, you need a barrier to fit the sensor, plus something to help protect the patient’s soft tissue.

Because the sensors are thicker than film, and we already know how patients react when we need to take lower periapicals, sensor softness is a consideration.

New Wave Dental makes a cushion for the sensor. It’s an all-in-one barrier sleeve called Wrap-Ease and can be purchased from Crosstex.

New Wave Dental also makes what are called Sensor Slippers (also available through Crosstex), which are for when you are using the Snap-A-Ray or the Eezee-Grip and the sensor keeps slipping due to the barrier. The cushion prevents the slippage and at the same time creates a softer edge for the patient’s mouth. The company also has something called the Edge-Ease, which adheres to the edge of the sensor barrier.

Indeed, New Wave Dental did not forget about patients that have a problem biting on the XCP bite piece, so you can “trick” the patient by using Bitewing-Ease. This barrier pad adjusts to fit all manufacturer’s sensor and folds to create a bite tab.

A final word

If you are not using digital radiographs, my advice is to start researching. Yes, expect to spend some money, but did you know that most offices use a conventional dental X-ray unit as the source for radiation?

Take into account that digital sensors are more sensitive to radiation and require 50 to 80 per cent less of a radiation dose than film.* Even though we are using less radiation, the lead aprons are still needed to protect patients.

Can you tell I like digital radiography? Once I learned how to use the magnification feature, it occurred to me that I had been in the dark long enough.

Products to help you ‘go digital’


  • Uni-Grip disposable holder
  • XCP-DS sensor position system
  • XCP-DS disposable card holder
  • Eezee-Grip digital sensor holder
  • Snap-A-Ray film holder

New Wave Dental (sold through Crosstex)

  • Wrap-Ease sensor wrap around pad
  • Sensor Slippers barrier pad
  • Edge-Ease wrap around pad
  • Bitewing-Ease wrap around pad

About the Author

Carla Gantz is currently a practicing dental hygiene clinician and treatment planner coordinator for the office of Dr. Thurman, Welborn and Cassady in Glasgow, Ky. She is a 1996 alumni of Western Kentucky University, past president of the Kentucky Dental Hygienists’ Association and a CareerFusion member. In addition, Ganz has been presenting webinars since 2009. You may contact Gantz at

* Haring J. Howarten L. Dental Radiography Principles and Techniques. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.


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