Digital intraoral cameras have been touted as one of the most important technologies you can add to your practice. They educate your patients and document cases. I have found them especially useful when proving to the insurance company the existence of a massive fracture when the radiograph itself could not show it. Many times, the magnification allowed me to see fractures that otherwise would have gone undetected.
Now in recent years, the technology to improve our clinical diagnostic ability has taken a giant leap forward. Caries detection has gone digital, and finally has been able to incorporate the benefits of the intraoral camera. Air Techniques has pioneered a unique solution in this area. Its intraoral camera Polaris, combined with its caries detection camera, Spectra, has more than improved the typical checkup appointment--it has changed it entirely.
The first thing you will notice about the Polaris USB camera is its construction. The best thing about the camera is its ability to plug-and-play into your existing system. It has a direct USB connection, with no need for a separate capture box or capture card. Besides lowering your expense, it makes it extremely easy to move the camera between treatment rooms.
Its outer casing is made from stainless steel, different from most cameras packaged with a plastic shell. It feels virtually indestructible in your hands without being too heavy. The field of view is lit up by white LED’s, bright enough to illuminate the tooth and low power enough to run from USB power on the computer.
While other cameras have a fixed position to capture images, the Polaris is able to rotate around up to 330 degrees. Normally you would have to twist your hand around to find the button when capturing different parts of the mouth. The swivel makes it easy to place the body and capture button in the best position for your hand, and then just twist the head to point in the direction you want.
I found the Spectra just as user-friendly, taking longer to understand the technology behind it than to figure out how to use it. We have seen other early-caries detection devices in dentistry over the past few years. Compared to the hand-held beeping variety, using the Spectra was like going from radio to HD television. The camera projects a high energy violet blue light (405nm) that stimulates porphyrins. These porphyrins are metabolites of cariogenic bacteria, and fluoresce red under this light.
The camera then captures this, rates the intensity of the fluorescence, and displays it onscreen with a numerical value attached to each area. This is not measuring the likelihood of decay. The higher the number, the deeper and more widespread the decay.
Perhaps the most intriguing benefit of the Spectra is that is supplanted the use of caries detection dyes for our practice. Instead of just using it as a pre-treatment diagnostic tool, we use it during caries excavation. If there is caries remaining, they will show up in red on the image while healthy tooth structure shows a bright green. Besides taking the guesswork out of caries removal, I won’t be going home with any red stains on my clothes anymore.
So what is the learning curve on this team of cameras? Setup can be done remotely with a support staff member from Air Techniques, and the Spectra and Polaris are both compatible with most imaging and practice management software. When our cameras were set up, it took about 20 minutes during a lunch time, and we were using the cameras that afternoon.
Using the Polaris and Spectra together has dramatically improved our diagnostic capabilities. We use the cameras in concert with each other, displaying both images side by side for patients to see. Patients are coming in to the office expecting more of an explanation than “I’m the doctor, here is what I recommend.” Whether it is from a previous bad experience, or from being on a tighter budget, patients are looking for more than a subjective recommendation, and they deserve it. Adding the Spectra and Polaris to your consultation adds an element of objectivity. It visually confirms what your treatment recommendations are for each tooth in a way that is simple for everyone to see.