A somewhat painful look at digital technology

Two words that should not be used together:



That’s what I did yesterday afternoon instead of sitting in on a conference call with Microsoft as originally scheduled.

Feeling much better today. In fact, this is the first time in a week that I have not been in excruciating pain.

The one cool part of the whole process is that my endodontist was using a Windows-based digital X-ray system. Instead of placing a small piece of film in my mouth, he positioned a plastic paddle about the size of a small spatula so that the sensor on its end was in the right place, had me hold it steady, and pressed the X-ray button (“Bzzzztttt!”). Almost instantly (literally under a second), there was a response from the Dell notebook on the countertop behind him (“Ding!”) and the image was displayed in a window on the screen.

As a result he was able to snap images repeatedly throughout the procedure (“Bzzzztttt!” “Ding!”), see the results of his work nearly in real time, and make any necessary course corrections. (“Oh, look. There’s a fourth nerve in there. Hmmm, we’ll need to get to that.”)

He’s been using this system since 1997 (it’s been updated many times, of course, as has his hardware) and says he can’t imagine how he would work without it. His use of digital technology fundamentally altered my experience as the patient. I’m used to that 5- or 10-minute downtime after the dental tech snaps the X-ray and before it’s processed. With those analog imaging systems the image is tiny (the size of the original piece of film) and without training it’s hard to understand exactly what you’re looking at.

By contrast, using the digital X-ray system my doctor was able to show me what he had just done, highlight portions of the image using the mouse, apply different algorithms to the stored bits to alter the digital image and highlight different aspects of it, and blow it up to a size where I could see it well from several feet away and understand what he was explaining.

All in all, it was not too terribly painful and even kind of fascinating. But I’ll be happy if I never see that particular piece of Windows software again.

6 thoughts on “A somewhat painful look at digital technology

  1. Hi Ed

    Sounds good ( for you, and the dentist) in the short term.
    In the long term i would be a bit concerned about the amount of X-rays entering the body, unlesss of course its not a normal (radiation) X-ray machine.

  2. Trevor, he probably took 5-6 X-rays in all, about the same number I would have in a full series as part of a dental checkup. And this is presumably a rare procedure for me as a patient.

    Dental X-rays are pretty low dose and very, very localized, so I’m not too worried. And without this level of feedback, there’s a risk that I would have to go in and have something redone. Ugh.

  3. So the assimilation continues… you ARE becoming a Microsoft Robot! Do you know exactly what type of mind control implant they put in?

    I hope everything goes well, and it causes you no more pain.

  4. RE the radiation question…

    My dentist was just starting to test his system the last time I was there, and he said the radiation dose is significantly lower. I think I remember it being almost an order of magnitude lower as the sensor is much more sensitive than film.

    Which makes sense, when you consider the resolution a modern camera sensor can give at iso speeds like 6400 – a range film only dreamed of being able to reproduce.


  5. My dentist just got the same system. We’re in the process of moving out of town, so my dentist just printed a copy of my x-rays and gave them to me to take to the new dentist.

    My eye doctor has a somewhat similiar system that lets them take a picture of the inside of my eye so I don’t have to be dialated. Then, they save these pictures and can compare them over time to see how things change.

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