Dental medicine is quickly entering the digital age, and the School of Dental Medicine has been at the forefront of that trend. After launching its electronic health record (EHR) system in August 2007, the SDM has now completed the next phase of its paperless transition—digital radiography.

After the EHR was launched, the next logical step was to digitize imaging capabilities at the school, according to Dr. L. Greg Schneider, chair of the Department of Diagnostic Sciences.

"With all of the changes that the SDM already had made with regard to going digital, it wouldn't make sense not to move in that same direction with the imaging functions," Dr. Schneider said.

Unlike traditional radiography, which relies on photographic film to capture and store images, this updated version uses digital X-ray sensors to perform those same tasks.

The SDM made digital updates to both its intraoral and extraoral imaging capabilities. For intraoral images, small, flexible photostimulable storage phosphor (PSP) plates are substituted for the photographic film. After the plate is exposed to the X-ray, it is placed in a special scanner that retrieves the image and then displays it on the computer screen. The image can then be stored electronically, as well.

For the school's extraoral imaging functions, the upgrade required a little more effort. The preferred method of digital extraoral radiography is direct digital imaging, in which sensors interface directly with the computer located in the chair area, which makes the imaging process even more efficient. This required the purchase of some new equipment and extensive upgrades of other equipment.
In addition to incorporating imaging into its EHR system, a number of additional features made the switch an attractive one for the SDM.

"Digital radiography holds several advantages over its traditional counterpart," Dr. Schneider said.

The images are ready for review faster because there is no need to wait for film to be processed. Further, the high-quality images can be manipulated post-processing, for example, by adjusting the contrast in order to get a better look at a potential anomaly.

Also, because the film processing component has been eliminated, digital radiography requires no darkroom on site. This not only frees up valuable office space, but it also removes the need for disposing the associated chemicals, which can be quite a hassle.

Patients also benefit from digital radiography because the images can be captured in a shorter amount of time. This leads to lower radiation exposure. While the dose of radiation in traditional imaging is not necessarily harmful, reducing the amount of exposure is still an asset. Furthermore, the file storage format is encrypted for secure form of transport to protect patient privacy.

The SDM's digital transition also includes the introduction of a piece of equipment, and its associated imaging technique, that is still relatively novel for the profession.

"Three-dimensional imaging has great potential for our profession, but it’s been largely underutilized thus far," Dr. Schneider said. "We now have equipment in place at Pitt that will not only allow our faculty members to use this technique, but also provide access to dentists practicing in the community."