Camera casts problems inside mouth onto TV screen ANNE ARUNDEL HEALTH

August 17, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

When Christel Lipscomb got a good look at the inside of her mouth for the first time, she could barely believe what she saw.

There were untreated cavities, leaking fillings, tarter, gum disease -- well, suffice to say there were a lot of things that most people would rather not know about, let alone see, existing in their mouths.

Mrs. Lipscomb, a 54-year-old from Glen Burnie, was in the chair of local periodontist Dr. Harold Packman for the first time when she found out what was was going on -- or rather going wrong -- in her mouth.

The detailed visual tour of her teeth and gums came courtesy of the Celebrity Intraoral Camera System, new technology that magnifies the inside of the mouth up to 50 times.

Dr. Packman's equipment is one of several camera and video systems now being used by dentists to project images of the teeth and gums onto a full-sized color television screen. The process, Dr. Packman said, not only helps him make better and earlier diagnoses but helps him explain what the trouble is to patients.

"When the dentist says you need a crown or a filling, many people say, 'Sure, sure.' They don't really believe it because they don't see it," he said. "But when they really see what's going on, they want to do something about it. . . . It's very motivational for patients."

Motivational, maybe. But still, for some patients, seeing a cavity magnified to the size of a golf ball may be a bit shocking.

"I wasn't expecting this, no," said Mrs. Lipscomb, who was seeking treatment for gum disease after her regular dentist referred her.

"It's a little embarrassing seeing it up there," she said, acknowledging that she had no idea how serious her dental problems were. "But I think it's helpful because you can see what the problem is."

Dr. Packman, who has had the machine in his Glen Burnie office for about six months and has already used it on hundreds of patients, said Mrs. Lipscomb's reaction is typical.

"They may be a little surprised," he said. "But the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

"This is the best innovation in dentistry in a long time," he said of the system, which cost about $8,000. "It not only helps the dentist give better treatment, it helps educate the patient."

Literature provided by the American Dental Association in Chicago on intraoral camera systems, while not promoting their use directly, is generally favorable toward benefits that can be achieved in various specialties using the technology.

The equipment works like this: a tiny television camera, the size of a dentist's probe, is inserted into the mouth where, with the help of a powerful light, it picks up images of teeth and gums. Areas as small as 1/16th of a inch can be picked up and projected onto a full-sized television screen, where they are magnified up to 50 times.

Dr. Packman said he uses the equipment to make diagnoses and during surgery to help him see. The system is particularly useful, he said, in showing detailed pictures of areas that would normally be hard to see.

Questioned about the need for such technology at a time when health care cost containment is at the center of public debate, Dr. Packman said he does not consider the intraoral camera system just a "nice-to-have" extra. In fact, he said, it has become such an integral part of his practice that he anticipates all dentists will be using camera systems in the not-so-distant future.

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