Dental School is among first in nation to use portable X-ray system

The NOMAD is especially useful in complex image-guided dental surgery such as root canal and dental implant procedures.

At first glance, it looks like a portable power drill you’d get at a local hardware store. But if you look closely, you’ll see the word “X-ray” printed in large red type near the control buttons. The Nomad, a cordless hand-held intra-oral X-ray machine, is among the latest developments in portable X-ray systems, and the Dental School at the Health Science Center is one of only three universities in the nation to have it.

The Nomad weighs only 8 pounds, requires no cords and runs on a rechargeable 14.4 volt rechargeable NiCd battery, the same type of battery a portable power drill would use. Unlike traditional X-ray machines, the Nomad can be held directly up to a patient’s mouth during X-rays without the risk of excess radiation exposure to the patient or dentist.

“We are teaching some our students to incorporate this new technology into dental practice and we are seeing the benefits of it every day,” said Robert Langlais, D.D.S., professor and director of the graduate oral and maxillofacial radiology program in the department of dental diagnostic science at the Health Science Center.

Dr. Langlais and his team helped introduce the new X-ray machine to the world during the Federation Dentaire Internationale (FDI) conference in Montreal, Canada, in August. The FDI is the worldwide professional organization for dentistry.

The first dental X-ray machines were developed more than a century ago. Until now, these X-ray machines were traditionally wall mounted and required the dentist and X-ray technician to vacate the room to avoid radiation exposure when X-rays were being taken on a patient.

The Nomad was developed in 2004 and gained final FDA approval in July 2005. The Nomad yields at least 20 percent less radiation than traditional systems, produces clear, high-quality X-ray images, and provides the added convenience of portability within the dental office or on location. It is also especially useful in complex image-guided dental surgery such as root canal and dental implant procedures.

Executives at Aribex X-ray Inc., the company based out of Orem, Utah, that developed the Nomad X-ray system, loaned two machines to faculty members at the Health Science Center so that they could begin using it on patients and evaluating how the device could be improved.

“The Dental School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is ranked among the best in the nation with a track record of proven success,” said Don Kloos, vice president of sales and marketing for Aribex X-ray Inc. “We felt that the faculty and students there would be most qualified to evaluate and help us improve upon this new technology.”

David Senn, D.D.S., clinical assistant professor of dental diagnostic science at the Health Science Center, used the Nomad as part of the Region VI Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) that set up a disaster morgue in St. Gabriel, La., following the Hurricane Katrina disaster in August.

“We used three Nomad units and they performed flawlessly and allowed efficient and rapid forensic analysis,” Dr. Senn said. He recalled his experiences with D-MORT in New York after the 9-11 disaster in 2001. “The operation in Louisiana was much more complex than the World Trade Center disaster from a postmortem examination perspective. In the first few weeks, we examined more victims per day in Louisiana than we ever did in one day in New York. The combination of Nomads and digital radiography reduced the examination time in St. Gabriel by as much as 50 percent,” he said.

Faculty members and students are already making suggestions for the creation of a harness for the machine and other features that will make it easier to hold and use in a dentist’s office and on location. Dr. Langlais said the machine also makes for interesting conversation with adult and child patients and helps ease the nerves of those who may be uneasy about their visits to the dentist’s office.

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