Dental cone beam computed tomography (CT) is a type of x-ray machine that provides three-dimensional imaging of the patient’s entire jaw, including dental structures, nerve paths, bone, and soft tissues at one time. While this technology is not used very often due to the higher levels of radiation it emits, it is useful in cases when regular dental or facial x-rays do not provide enough information and the dentist needs to have certain information to devise a treatment plan.
This technology was invented specifically to be used in the smaller setting of the dentist’s office so that dentists would not need to send their patients elsewhere for expensive CT scans. This type of imaging is called cone-beam CT because the x-ray beam that moves around the patient is cone-shaped. Cone-beam CT is different from conventional CT in that it does not give the dentist full diagnostic information about the patient’s soft tissue structures like nerves, lymph nodes, glands, muscles, etc. However, for the purposes of dental work this information is rarely required, and the lower radiation levels of cone-beam CT make it the perfect option for dental imaging.
If your dentist orders a cone-beam CT for you, you will need to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, and you may be asked to wear a medical gown. You will likely be asked to remove all of the metal objects from your body, including underwire bras, eyeglasses, hairpins, jewelry, dentures, hearing aids, and removable dental work. These objects can interfere with the CT images.
IMPORTANT: If you are pregnant, please tell your dentist, radiologist, or imaging technician prior to allowing a cone-beam CT to be done. Cone-beam CT scans are not recommended for pregnant women unless it is absolutely necessary as the radiation could put the fetus at risk.
Cone beam CT yields detailed imagery of the patient’s bone structure, allowing the dentist to check out whether the patient displays signs of any jaw diseases as well as to examine dentition, the nasal cavity and sinuses, and the bony structures of the face. The dentist can also use cone-beam CT to pinpoint facial bone problems, such as tumors or fractures, and to investigate potential dental implant sites and areas where a complex tooth extraction needs to be performed. In this way, the dentist is able to foresee potential problems and complications that may occur during and after dental surgery, and in doing so attempt to prevent them. Cone-beam CT is a fast and efficient technology that enables the dentist to complete the scanning and diagnostic work more quickly than ever before.