You can't fix what you can't see.
They say your smile is the very first thing people notice about you, and it's one of the few things people remember about you after you leave. But, unfortunately, most people can't see or don't pay special attention to their teeth and smile. Furthermore, many dental problems aren't always visibly apparent. For example, cavities may be hidden from view, impacted teeth hidden beneath your gums, and abscesses located deep inside your mouth.
To better identify and diagnose hidden issues and buried problems, it is imperative to see them. Diagnostic dental imaging places a crucial role in illuminating potential oral health hazards and making them plain to see and treat.
How Does Dental Imaging Improve My Oral Health?
You can only treat what you can see. Seeing problems lets doctors and dentists come up with a treatment plan. Catching a potential oral health problem early can mean the difference between a quick corrective procedure or extensive maxillofacial reconstruction.
Thankfully, numerous technologies are available today that let doctors and dentists peer into previously hidden parts of your mouth from dental roots and jawbones.
Dental imaging improves oral health:
- Allows dentists to see inside your mouth.
- Improves identification rate of hidden oral health hazards.
- Helps visualize oral health over time.
- Aids patient education.
- Allows patients and doctors to make informed health decisions.
Dental imaging uses:
- Comprehensive oral surveying
- Dental implant planning
- Dental evaluation
- Palate assessment
- Diagnosis of cavities (dental caries)
- Root canal procedure planning
- Dental trauma evaluation
Types of Dental Imaging
Dental clinics are often equipped with basic imaging equipment such as x-rays.
Most modern clinics use highly specialized x-ray equipment known as a panoramic x-ray or pano.
Many clinics also employ a wand-like scanning tool called an intraoral scanner to image the inside of your mouth.
Finally, more advanced specialists might employ state-of-the-art imaging equipment and processes such as 3D cone beam, dental computed tomography (CT), tuned-aperture CT, and others.
Type of Dental Imaging:
- Carestream 8100*
- 2D X-ray, or radiograph
- Intraoral scanner
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT)
* At LA Periodontics and Implant Specialists, we use the Carestream 8100. The effective radiation dose is lower than many other machines.
2D X-Rays vs. 3D X-Rays
Traditional x-rays produce a two-dimensional image by firing small amounts of radiated particles through your body.
For dental imaging, this x-ray radiation is channeled through your face and mouth. A detector that picks up the x-rays on the other side of your mouth generates a two-dimensional image. Think of an x-ray as taking a slice of your mouth and producing a 2D image.
While useful, conventional x-rays still lack crucial information such as volume and depth. To overcome this shortcoming, many advanced clinics employ 3D x-rays.
Most 3D x-ray systems use a combination of x-ray technology and computed tomography (CT) to gather and collate three-dimensional information. However, the rapid advancement of 3D modeling and imaging software and computing power means some clinics can create a fully digital 3D model of a patient's mouth.
Unlike a static 2D image, 3D information can be presented on a screen, enlarged, rotated, and manipulated in real-time. This makes hidden parts of the mouth more visible and presents information in a comprehensive way. Furthermore, several x-rays might have been required to generate enough 2D images to create a comprehensive view of a patient's mouth in the past.
Today, thanks to the power of technology, a fully-rendered 3D model can be generated with a single scan.
Benefits of 3D dentistry versus 2D imaging:
- Higher resolution
- Fully digital
- More comfortable
- It can be easily transmitted
- Fully-rendered 3D model
Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)
Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) is a type of computed tomography (CT) system that utilizes an advanced cone-shaped x-ray beam that rotates around a patient's head. The rotating x-ray captures enough data in one session to generate a fully-rendered digital model of a person's mouth. CBCT is used for your teeth, mouth, neck, jaw, throat, and neck.
Dental Imaging Safety
All dental imaging procedures in wide use today are incredibly safe. Millions of dental x-rays are executed every year. Meanwhile, imaging procedures based on visible light or ultrasounds are safe for all people of all ages.
Both conventional 2D x-rays and advanced 3d x-rays generate a small amount of radiation. However, compared to other medical x-ray procedures, such as a chest x-ray, dental x-rays generate far less potentially harmful radiation. In addition, specialized tools and equipment further limit any unintended x-ray exposure.
According to the FDA, dental x-rays and imaging procedures that utilize x-ray radiation, such as CT scans, are safe for almost all patients. However, the FDA still recommends avoiding unnecessary scans. In addition, the FDA has specific recommendations for pediatric dental patients and x-ray imaging. (Pediatric is defined as patients between the ages of 0 and 21 years old.)