What are CT Scans Used for in Dentistry?


Good dentistry is all about correct detection, diagnosis and treatment – all done right the first time.  And these things have to be done right in a small spaces. There is literally no room for error.  This is where the CT scan comes in.

A CT scan provides the surgeon with a 3-dimensional image of the area scanned. This is particularly helpful in the placement of implants. Prior to this technology the surgeon relied on a 2-dimensional image for placement. Major concerns arise with the location of the mandibular nerve in the lower jaw. If this area is penetrated the result could be permanent paresthesia (numbing).

Another use of the CT scan is early detection of tooth fractures. For a fracture to show up on an x-ray it has to be a fairly significant crack that you might be able to see visually. This technology can also be helpful to determine if a tooth is worth saving at all.

Oral surgeons can use this technology to locate tumors in the head and neck. As you can imagine, helping to achieve an accurate diagnosis and an accurate location are very helpful to the surgeon.

The root canal specialists can make use of this. I had one patient in particular who had internal resorption on one of his lower front teeth. With the results from this scan he could determine that much of the tooth structure had been resorbed (dissolving of the hard tooth structure) so that the long term prognosis of this tooth was very poor. In another case, this unusual condition was caught very early and the tooth could be saved with traditional endodontics.

Orthodontists are making use of the CT scan as well. With the additional information they can place the teeth in a position to lessen the use of devices for snoring and sleep apnea. Also, TMJ disorders are prevalent to various degrees, and this technology can help.

As with all technology which costs the clinician a significant amount of money, there is a chance for overuse. For me, I’d rather trust my surgeon and hope he has all the diagnostic tools, within reason, to get a great outcome.