Imaging Used in Dentistry

A dental patient that had a laser imaging wand in her mouth to get images of her teeth.

Just like other fields in medicine and health, dentistry technology has changed over the years. When it comes to finding tooth decay, you may have traditional x-rays taken using bitewings you bite down on. However, you might also have handheld digital imaging devices take the images or rotating machines that you stand inside. The following are the most common imaging methods used in dentistry.


Dentistry 101

How much do you know about your dental office? If you don’t go to the dentist often, then it may not be much. The American Dental Association recommends that every person (including babies and toddlers) visit the dentist at least twice a year for comprehensive exams and dental cleanings. These appointments are so important that most insurance companies will cover them. However, only about 65% of Americans are actually visiting a dentist each year, and many don’t visit the recommended two times.


Part of that is because of busy schedules. There is just simply too much to juggle and oral health can slide with some patients. With others, dental phobias are to blame. Colgate reports—from a study conducted by the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine—that 9-15% of Americans have dental phobias that keep them out of the dental office. Much of those phobias are associated with negative experiences in dental offices, while others fear dental sedation methods with needles.


Another reason is all the machinery used in dental offices. Machines and tech used can be large and it can be scary for some patients. That is why understanding dentistry technology can help patients to be less apprehensive about visiting a dental office. One of the major reason there are machines in a dental office is because of the imaging that is used in dentistry to find dental decay.


Dental x-ray that shows the internal structure of the teeth and jaws.


X-rays are the longest-standing imaging used in dentistry. Most patients experience x-ray dentistry imaging with bitewings. This is an x-ray film that patients bite down on with a small mouth device. An overhead x-ray machine is then placed next to the cheek and in a second the images are taken where the film is touching. Bitewings are used to find surface cavities, especially between the teeth. They can also detect changes in bone density from gum disease. These types of x-rays placed in the mouth are mostly for detecting surface cavities, while other dentistry technology detects subsurface cavities.


Laser Cavity Detection

Tooth decay can be difficult to diagnose in certain situations, especially when it starts out as a microscopic defect under the enamel. Left untreated, the decay may spread quickly under the surface, creating a large cavity inside a seemingly intact tooth. While x-rays and probing tools are effective in detecting decay at the surface of the tooth, they are unreliable when it comes to exposing subsurface cavities. Given the limitations of these conventional diagnostic methods, we use a Diagnodent laser cavity detection device for all of our patients. We never want to miss a cavity that can then grow large.


Our Diagnodent device is actually a laser that is inside a pen-like wand. It looks like a simple device, but it can do so much in detecting the smallest cavities inside your tooth. We use this wand to scan the surface of all of your teeth, and it can do this scan in just a few seconds. The technology is completely safe and painless. It’s also far more accurate in cavity detection than x-rays and conventional probing instruments.


This wand was created using concepts based on lightwave reflection. Science found that laser light can reflect off of certain objects, while other objects will absorb the light. With dentistry, the laser can expose hidden cavities by the way the tooth reflects the light. When the tooth is healthy, the light will easily pass through with minimal refraction. If a cavity is present, however, light will be reflected. The amount of light that is reflected back can tell us exactly how deep and how large a cavity is, as well as the exact location. This invention in dentistry truly changed how we detect cavities to prevent tooth loss and infection.


A beautiful brunette patient that is standing inside a dental x-ray CT machine.

Dental Cone Beam CT

In some dental offices, you will see a large machine that other patients may be standing in. This is likely a Dental Cone Beam CT machine. It is found in most dental offices and is another way to get a better x-ray of your teeth, jaws and facial structure as a whole. We would use a machine like this if you have pain in a back molar that is difficult to get to or if your dental issue requires better imaging. When this is used in dentistry, it can produce a three dimensional image of your head.


We focus on your teeth, jaw structure, nerve pathways, soft tissues (like the gums) and your bones. For patients with severe tooth decay issues or gum disease with tooth loss and recession, we can get a much better view of what is going on inside the mouth. For a simple cavity in a patient with relatively few oral health problems, getting x-rays in the dental chair with bitewings may be best instead of the CT machine.


The Cone beam works similar to an actual CT scan, but it focuses on your dental structures as it produces similar images to a CT scan. The machine will have you place your chin in a stand for the machine to hold it in place so you’re still. It will simply rotate around your head away from you so you’re not claustrophobic. The scan only takes a few seconds, but produces amazing results for detecting diseases of the teeth, gums and jaws.


Dentistry for You

If you haven’t been to a dentist in some time, consider scheduling your exam and dental cleaning today. Using modern imaging in dentistry, we can detect any dental issues when they are very small and easy to correct. To schedule your appointment, call Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies at (970) 223-8425!