Admittedly, our practice has been slow to adopt digital x-rays. Our fast analog film and top-of-the-line x-ray machines have always minimized patient dose and maximized image quality on traditional film. The hard digital x-ray sensors many dentists put in patients’ mouths are uncomfortable, expensive, and break fairly easily. Since they can’t be sterilized, they must be wrapped in plastic sheaths.

We are never the first to adopt new technologies. One reason is the high price when a new product is first introduced. Any new technology eventually becomes a lot cheaper and better as time goes on, as those of us old enough to remember the cost of the first personal computers know! Some new technologies turn out to be duds that do not perform to expectations. Our strategy is to let others waste money on expensive product failures, while we benefit from the tough lessons they learned.

metro Atlanta dentist adopts 3D xray
Here is our new Planmeca 3D x-ray machine, replacing our trusty analog machine of 1991.

It was apparent to me a long time ago that digital x-ray machines with no sensors in the mouth represented the future of dental imaging. We recently skipped over this transient 2D stage to go directly to 3D radiology. These advanced machines produce a miniature CAT scan called “cone beam” radiography. My x-ray model also has the capability of taking side views of the skull that we need for orthodontic cases.

I spend enormous amounts of time in comparing products before purchasing any expensive piece of equipment. In the end, we bought a Planmeca machine. This company’s products have quite a track record. Many institutions, including my dental school, the Veteran’s Administration, and hospital clinics own them. Planmeca offers many superior features, most notably an ultra-low dose setting that still gives good image quality.

Formerly, patients needing cone beam scans for implants or root canal failures would have to go to a specialist or have a van with an x-ray machine come to their house or workplace. Although convenient, this tended to cost more. Now such 3D scans can be done in our office at lower expense.

On a selfish note, after 35+ years of tracing orthodontic skull profiles with pencil, protractor, and acetate sheets at home on weekends, I can finally do it quickly on computer at the office.

Since my graduation in 1980 there have been a few really significant advancements in dental treatment. The first would have to be the success and standardization of implant therapy. The second, in my opinion, is 3D x-ray imaging. Just as medical CAT scans and MRIs antiquated exploratory surgery for diagnosis, the dental cone beam scans make dental diagnosis a lot more accurate and treatment more predictable. Often, a 3D scan will find problems neither the patient nor dentist even suspected!

Patients will enjoy looking through scans of the lower half of their heads on the computer screen. In addition to teeth and the bone that holds them, you may see aberrations of your sinuses and even blockages behind the nose. 3D scans are helpful in analyzing the airway in sleep apnea. We have already diagnosed a grossly enlarged jaw joint in one patient with a history of TMJ dysfunction. Cone beam x-ray machines like mine garner the same information on a smaller part of the body, with much less radiation and a lot less cost than CAT scans at hospitals and imaging centers.

Kim Henry DMD