Who knows what lies behind the surface of your teeth? Well, until recently, no one. Not that long ago, you could have had life-changing dental issues lying in wait beneath the surface of your teeth, and even your dentist wouldn’t be able to tell. Fortunately, today, dentists are taking an even closer look at your dental health than ever before – literally. That’s because thanks to cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), three-dimensional imaging is becoming more and more common in dental offices and helping dentists detect potential issues at their most easily treatable stage.
Adding a new dimension to dental imaging
Ever since dentistry entered the modern age, the mainstay of diagnosis has been the radiograph, or X-ray. In addition to the clinical exam, the X-ray has given your dentist valuable information regarding the health of your teeth. And while it still provides important information and perspective, we now have the ability to get a much more complete, three-dimensional view of the tooth with CBCT imaging. CBCT technology works by first taking a series of small X-ray images from every angle, and then using a computer to combine these images to create a 3D digital model.
Slice of life
To understand the impact of this type of imaging, consider looking at a photograph of an apple with a small bruise. This two-dimensional image allows you to see the color, size, and shape of the apple and its bruise – which is all important information. Now consider looking at a very thin slice of that same apple, which allows you to also see what is inside the apple at that particular slice. If we then expand on this idea a little further, imagine that we can cut that slice at any angle, and you start to understand just how much more information becomes available. For example, now we can see exactly how deep the bruise goes in every direction. All of this would provide very valuable information if you were trying to decide whether or not to eat that apple. Similarly, 3D imaging in dentistry provides this same sort of in-depth information to help your dentist make decisions about your treatment plan.
As an Endodontist, I can tell you that 3D imaging has changed forever the way we diagnose and treat our patients. It helps us to discover evidence of infections and other issues that would otherwise be impossible to see. In fact, I’ve had many patients that have been in chronic pain that could not be diagnosed. Yet once we took a 3D image, the problem became obvious and we could then immediately proceed to address the issue.
And what is equally valuable, is when this type of imaging offers information that helps us decide to forgo treatment altogether. For example, sometimes, with only a 2D X-ray as guidance, we would have elected to begin root canal therapy only to find that the tooth is not responding well to treatment. With 3D imaging, we can tell right away that the tooth is not viable. Therefore, we can opt not to perform a root canal and thus alleviate pain and minimize the time and money spent on dentistry.
3D imaging allows us to understand oral health issues, not just more precisely, but also more comprehensively. That means that we can more accurately and immediately help our patients with both their diagnoses, and their treatments. And that is why this type of technology is bringing us into a whole new dimension of the modern age of dentistry.
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