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Dental Sensor Repair: What You Need To Know

Dental Sensor Repair: What You Need to Know

By Lamar Roberts

Should You Repair Your Dental Sensor or Replace It?

One of your dental digital x-ray sensors is broken and no longer under warranty. Is it better to repair the sensor or just replace it outright?

Here at Apteryx, we frequently listen to our practices grapple with the sensor “repair or replace” decision. Our imaging software, named XrayVision, is installed in tens of thousands of dental practices and is designed to plug and play with sensors from all manufacturers. So naturally we have fielded lots of support calls from practices utilizing virtually every brand of sensor. Many of those support calls pinpoint a broken or faulty sensor as the root of the problem at which point, we’re asked to weigh in on the repair or replace question.

In the spirit of full transparency, we sell our own sensor brand (TUXEDO) and do not repair broken sensors. However, since we know repair via a 3rd party sensor repair company can be an option for our customers, we want to give an honest answer to the repair/ replace question.

Factors Affecting the Dental Sensor Repair Decision

The key factors to consider in a dental sensor repair vs. replace assessment are:

  • The age of your broken sensor
  • The original purchase price
  • The warranty status and terms
  • If you’ve purchased an extended support or replacement plan
  • The nature of the damage or failure
  • The cost of repair
  • The replacement cost

It’s not just a function of the sensor repair cost itself. In some situations, spending $1,500 on a repair might make good economic sense. In others, even the most minimal repair charge might not be justified.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume the broken dental sensor is either out of warranty or the repair in question is not covered. We’ll also assume you don’t have any extended support or replacement plans that provide discounts to replace sensors that are out of warranty. In this situation the cost portion of the decision really boils down to the price of purchasing a new sensor versus the cost of the repair. Now let’s look a little deeper at the individual factors to consider.

Sensor Age

What is a reasonable expectation for the usable life of a dental x-ray sensor? The actual trouble-free life span of sensors ranges widely. Some of our XrayVision users have sensors that are still working well at the 10-year mark; others experience failures within the first two years — there’s a little luck of the draw in play here. With proper care and handling we find that sensors should last about five years on average.

With new features and capabilities coming every few years, at some point repairing an older sensor is, in essence, reinvesting in obsolete technology. Additionally, good quality sensors are becoming more affordable each year (available at around $3,500 or less). With this in mind, think of the repair decision on a sliding scale between year one and year five. The amount you should be willing to pay for repairs declines gradually at first, then falls sharply after year three, reaching near zero at year five. After three years, attractive technology upgrades at reasonable prices are likely to be available.

The Original Purchase Price and Sensor Replacement Cost

The price of new dental intraoral sensors typically ranges from $3,000 on the lower-end up to $10,000 for big company brands like the Dexis Titanium. With an out of warranty situation, you’ll likely be faced with that full price as your replacement cost. It’s human nature that once you’ve committed to premium priced sensors, you’ll probably be willing to pay more to return that sensor to the operatory when it fails. With typical repair costs ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, you’re likely to see repair as a more attractive option if your replacement cost is $8,000 to $10,000. On the other hand, if you can replace your broken sensor for $3,000 and get a fresh multi-year warranty, repairs may be significantly less appealing.

Dental Sensor Repair Cost

The Nature of the Sensor Failure or Damage

The cause of the sensor failure may be a key factor in deciding whether to investigate repair at all. So why do sensors fail to begin with?

The most common point of failure is cable damage. With sensors that are used daily, the cable may be bent over 10,000 times per year. The strands of tiny wires that make up the cable can break simply as a matter of wear and tear. Excessive bending to very acute angles may also cause premature cable failure. On the other end of things, damage can occur to the USB connector that goes from the cable to the computer. Repeated plugging and unplugging of the cable will wear both the USB connector on the cable and in the computer. Believe it or not, the cost of repairing a sensor with a new cable can be $1,000 or more (this tends to be at the low end of the repair cost range). Additionally, the cable is not terribly sophisticated from an electronics standpoint, so the likelihood of long-term success with this type of repair is pretty high.

The sensor housing and internal electronics are a more serious point of failure. Impact damage can result from the sensor being bitten on, dropped, stepped on, or otherwise crushed. Excessive force can cause delamination which often shows up as a dark spot on x-rays at the point of impact. Improper handling and failure to follow instructions for care can also damage the delicate internal sensor components. As an example, sensors should never be autoclaved or submersed in liquids. Damage to the housing and or internal electronics, which consists of intricate circuit boards, tiny specialized connectors, and small gauge wires, usually results in damage that requires complex repairs or may not be repairable at all. These repairs can be tedious, time consuming, and require a highly specialized skill set. The probability of a subsequent failure after this type of complex repair is probably higher than a simple cable replacement.

Finally, standard repair warranties are typically short-term, in the range of 30 – 60 days. Some manufacturers offer extended warranties that come at an additional charge. However, some of these warranties allow replacement with reconditioned sensors or an “equivalent” device. In short, these warranties differ from original manufacturer’s warranties and may open the possibility of getting a brand, model, or device that differs from your original sensor.

So Should Your Dental Sensor be Repaired or Replaced? Adding It Up 

Whether to repair or replace a broken dental sensor very much depends on your specific situation.

Repair might be an option to consider when:

  • Your sensor is less than three years old
  • The technology has not been significantly upgraded since your purchase
  • Your sensor is a premium priced brand with a high replacement cost
  • The repair is more minor in nature (i.e. cable replacement)
  • The repair cost is low relative to the replacement cost
  • You’re less concerned about having an original manufacturer’s warranty
  • You’re willing to invest time in the repair process (you’ll be without the sensor for a week or two)
  • Your priority is lower up-front costs (there may be some short-term savings with repairs)

Replacement might be the better option when:

  • Your sensor is out of warranty
  • Your sensor is three years old or greater
  • Newer upgraded versions have been introduced since your purchase
  • Your sensor is value priced and the replacement cost is lower
  • The damage is more significant in nature (i.e. damage to internal components)
  • The repair cost is high relative to the replacement cost
  • You prefer a manufacturer’s warranty
  • You don’t want to invest the time to coordinate a repair or can’t afford the downtime
  • Your priority is the best long-term investment

If you need a quote for an individual sensor, or a complete digital radiography system including software, we’re here and happy to help. Our team is available via the link below or at 877-APTERYX