A Whole New World

What’s “hip” in dental imaging technology today

By: Dr. James Duncan

We live in a world of images. Almost everything we do involves capturing an external representation of a person or things in art. Most of these images are then regularly shared on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn, or emailed to family and friends. Not too long ago, we could boast, “My phone has a camera in it!” Now I think our smart phones take better photos than our digital cameras.

The health care industry is pretty “hip” when it comes to imaging, too. The first recorded X-ray was in 1895 by a German/Dutch physicist by the name of Wilhelm C. Röntgen. This revealed a whole new world of viewing the human body without physically opening someone up. In today’s world, we hear terms like CAT scan, MRI, digital X-rays and high-definition (HD) images.

A CAT scan is computed axial tomography, meaning images are mathematically reproduced from multiple tiny sections captured from radiation, delivering a three-dimensional (3-D) image. The chief purpose of the 3-D CT scan is diagnosing, allowing physicians to locate problems in both the hard structures, like bone, and the soft tissues, such as organs and vessels. These 3-D images give pinpoint locations of problems and provide the ability to measure sizes of the structures in the body.

Dentistry has taken this technology and scaled it to fit the needs of the profession. By utilizing 3-D CT technology, we can funnel the radiation down a cone to capture images, creating cone beam computed tomography (CBCT). This technology is now readily available in general dental practices. Utilizing CBCT drastically reduces the amount of radiation needed for CT scans and places the radiation in a more precise location on the patient.

In addition to radiation reduction (up to 100 times less), the actual size of the radiation machine (X-ray machine) is smaller, allowing it to fit in just about any dental office. The 3-D dental CBCT is being used regularly in so many different fields of specialties, including oral-maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontics, periodontics and orthodontics, to help diagnose and treat patients.

Aiding in diagnosing tumors and growths to dental caries (cavities), the CBCT can reveal exact locations of impacted teeth and destruction of jaw bone resulting from trauma or gum disease, pinpoint accurate locations of vital structures and nerve canals and reveal internal anatomy of a tooth for root canal therapy.

Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips to help in determining the best course of treatment for our patients, and in many situations, allowing treatment to be minimally invasive. This makes it more tolerable for the healing process of the remarkable human body.

The trinity of 3-D, length, width and height does not stop at the X-ray machine. No, it spills over into capturing HD impressions or molds of the teeth and jaw from inside the mouth. So many of us have experienced impressions/molds made of our teeth where a mouthful of “some gooey stuff” in a tray was placed in and over our teeth and filled up to the max, and we just to sit and wait for the material to harden. Stone, like plaster of Paris, is then poured into the impressions and allowed to set, and voilà – we have molds of our teeth.

Digital technology now allows your dentist to capture an HD image of all your teeth in the mouth along with all the additional structures, such as the gums and tissues, and displays this in full 3-D color! What is the purpose for 3-D impressions of our dentition? These 3-D images can be sent to 3-D printers, and a solid mold of your teeth will be printed to actual size. Or the images can be sent to a 3-D milling machine where a crown (cap) for the tooth can be milled to fit over your tooth. Orthodontists may use these images to develop a series of appliances that can be worn to move and straighten your teeth like Invisalign.

This technology is relatively new in dentistry and still a bit pricey, but as advances continue in this 9,000-year-old profession, we can expect the costs to drop and many more inventions and uses to follow.

For more information, visit Duncan Dental Studio online at www.duncandentalstudio.com.