Taking the time to learn a little more about the diagnostic tools and procedures available to you as a dental patient can bolster your peace of mind and a general understanding of all things dental. Knowledge is key in taking charge of your oral health. Let’s dig into two important visualization technologies that dentists use — digital x-rays and CT scans.
Digital x-rays serve several purposes. They help a dentist see past the superficial enamel and structure of your teeth into the inner tissue. X-rays can reveal parts of your teeth that may be suffering from decay, bone loss, and or otherwise invisible changes to internal bone structure.
When you come in for a dental exam, you may experience an intraoral x-ray (when the film is taken from inside your mouth) or an extraoral x-ray (when the film is taken from outside your mouth). Neither is much different from the other in terms of the patient experience, but these two variations on digital x-rays allow your dental care team to view your mouth from unique angles and perspectives. For example, a bite-wing x-ray provides your dentist with a clear snapshot of the upper and lower teeth in one area of the mouth. Another kind of x-ray, a periapical x-ray, can capture the entirety of the tooth, from the deepest section of the root in the jaw all the way to where it emerges from the gums.
Different kinds of x-rays allow for your dentist to examine your teeth in-depth while exposing you to as little radiation as possible for the least amount of time. Plus, digital imagery of your teeth can expedite your treatment process, and even save you time and money if your dentist needs to share the images with external specialists.
Computed tomography (CT) scans
The second common kind of digital visualization used in dentistry is a computed tomography scan, better known as a CT scan. This technology goes a level further, as it’s able to create a three-dimensional image from what it scans — in this case, your mouth. As this kind of scan is more advanced, it usually takes place in a hospital or radiology center and can identify bone-specific issues, such as bone breaks. Dentists will request a CT scan often prior to performing a more complex surgery to ensure that they are not further complicating existing structure or dental issues.
All in all, your dentist will know what kinds of diagnostic tools to use when, and your responsibility as a thoughtful patient is to listen, ask questions, and educate yourself to empowerment over your dental health.