In the beginning, there were X-rays. Machines using them have been commonplace in the medical profession for decades, allowing doctors and surgeons to peer inside the human body without ever making a cut.
The field of radiology has come a long way in that time, with a variety of new devices and medical imaging techniques gaining ground worldwide. One relative newcomer to this growing list of imaging techniques has turned out to be especially helpful to us: cone beam computed tomography, or CBCT.
Cone beam computed tomography combines the piercing vision of old-fashioned X-rays with the raw data-crunching power of modern-day computers. The device encircles the patient’s teeth and jaws, taking a series of pictures using cone-shaped X-rays. The process is done in a minute or so, and the large sample of images – described as a “volumetric data set” – is processed and stitched together into a single three-dimensional image.
It’s that 3-D capacity that gives a far better view of a patient’s teeth and jaws, with the ability to rotate the image in any direction as needed. In particular, surgeons getting ready to perform dental implant or facial reconstruction procedures appreciate that better view prior to surgery. Oral cysts, impacted teeth or anything else surgeons need to see are clear as day under the device’s gaze.
A relative newcomer, CBCT technology was introduced commercially in the United States in the early 2000s. It didn’t take long to catch on, and by 2005 researchers were reporting in medical journals that cone beam computed tomography was here to stay.
And so it is. Today, CBCT is in regular use in the offices of oral and maxillofacial surgeons around the country. Advances and improvements are announced regularly – such as one announcement from a CBCT maker in 2011 that its latest device cut radiation exposure by more than 50 percent. (The FDA has determined that radiation doses from dental CBCT exams are safe, although it also advises people under 21 to avoid all forms of radiation exposure unless medically necessary.)
Cone beam computed tomography may be just another chapter in the long history of medical advancements – but for us, it’s one that is greatly appreciated.
Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net