DICOM stands for Digital Image Communication in Medicine. It is an international standard for digital radiography that covers everything from hospital CAT Scans to dental periapicals. It is the DICOM standard that assures the reliable transfer of images from one system to another.
The DICOM standard also calls for the transfer of essential data along with the image. This includes the patient name, the date the image was acquired, the tooth number, the orientation and more. By arranging these critical data elements in a standard format they can now be transferred along with the image in a reliable manner.
To understand the concept, relate it to our old photographic system. A radiograph is just the image. Data elements in the form of the patient’s name, the date and tooth numbers are attached to the image by writing them on a mount or an envelope that holds the x-ray. As long as the mount and the image stay together we know about the film. However sometimes they are separated. Virtually every dental office has found an orphaned x-ray stuck behind the file cabinet at some time. With the data elements removed, in other words with the mount missing there is no way to ever determine whose x-ray it is and when it was taken. DICOM standards are the equivalent of permanently attaching the x-ray mount, and all the data it contains, to a digital image.