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Smile for the (Intraoral) Camera
by Katie Dean

3:00 a.m. 17.Feb.2000 PST
Dr. Les Plack is a dentist who lives up to his name.

The San Francisco-based dentist, who has been in practice for 32 years, has outfitted his office with advanced technology and claims these moves have made his practice safer, more efficient, and educational for his patients.

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"It's easier for them to deal with me, and make the decisions that they need to make," said Plack, who uses digital radiography, intraoral cameras, and practice management software.

While the technology is not new, it is becoming more common in dentists' offices as it's refined and prices drop.

Digital radiography, or digital X-rays, have been around for seven years and allows a dentist to see inside the tooth. The dentist, who takes an X-ray that appears on a computer screen next to the patient's chair, can then enlarge or colorize the tooth to enhance problem areas.

The new X-rays, used by an estimated 5 percent of dentists, are safer than the old method because they emit up to 90 percent less radiation. Six images of teeth can be taken for the same amount of radiation exposure it takes to process one piece of conventional film.

And as more patients learn about this, they prefer it.

"[Patients] start asking about it and the doctors become more sensitive to it," said Larry Faber, president of Input Optics, a practice management company, which networks patient records, billing, and images.

While reduced radiation was his primary reason for using digital radiography, Plack said he was pleasantly surprised with the environmental and patient education benefits.

Employees spend less time developing film for the X-rays and are exposed to fewer strong chemicals. In addition, dentists are required by environmental regulations to have these toxic chemicals hauled away by special removal services. Digital X-rays save on removal costs.

But the biggest plus of the new tools is patient education, Plack said.

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