The CAT scan is a relatively recent technique in dentistry, used to get an image of what’s happening deep within your jaws. You may be wondering what a CAT scan tells us that a conventional x-ray picture does not, and whether it is worth the extra expense to get one. And how does a CAT scan compare with a conventional x-ray in terms of radiation exposure?
CAT stands for “computer assisted tomography.” Often it’s just called a CT scan, for “computerized tomography.” The word “tomography” comes from roots meaning “slice” and “write.” Tomographic techniques take repeated two dimensional pictures, similar to repeatedly slicing through an object, and then assembles them with a computer to produce a three dimensional (3-D) image.
The latest type of CT scan used in dentistry is called CBCT, or Cone Beam Computed Tomography. The Cone Beam refers to a spiral beam of x-rays, which is used to create a series of two dimensional images from which a computer creates a 3-D image. Such an image is of great value in assessing problems and planning treatment.
Here are just a few examples of how a CBCT scan can be used. Orthodontists can see skeletal structures and developing teeth that are still inside the jawbone while planning strategies for directing the teeth in order to arrive at a better bite. Oral surgeons can find impacted or missing teeth, see their locations, and view their proximity to nerves and sinuses, assisting them in planning surgeries. These scans are particularly useful for root canal specialists because they show root canals that are less than a millimeter wide and even reveal accessory canals that may not be visible on conventional x-rays. In cases of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, a CBCT during sleep can be used to view a person’s airway and how it may be blocked by the tongue and other soft tissues in a person’s throat during sleep.
Compared to background radiation, the amount of radiation delivered in dental x-rays is minimal. A CBCT delivers a dose of radiation that is less than a typical full mouth x-ray series but more than a typical two dimensional panoramic radiograph. Generally CBCT scanners deliver lower doses than medical CT scanners.
With one low-dose CBCT scan, we can get an accurate idea of the internal structure of your bones and teeth and how they are situated in relation to each other. Prior to the availability of such images, many of these relationships had to be discovered in the course of a surgery or other treatment. Thus such a scan can aid greatly in the quality of treatment you will receive.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, one of your child’s primary (“baby”) teeth has become decayed to the point it might be lost prematurely. Saving it would require extensive treatment like capping it with a crown or performing a pulpotomy, similar to a root canal treatment.
You may be thinking: since it’s going to come out eventually, why go to the expense of trying to preserve it longer? Actually, there are good reasons to save a baby tooth depending on your child’s age — for now and for the future. Here are 4 of them.
They’re important for nutrition. Baby teeth are quite similar to permanent teeth — not only do they look like them, they perform like them too, enabling a growing child to chew and digest food needed to boost their development. Even the loss of one tooth for an extended period makes effective chewing harder.
They’re important for speech development. With their first words, children develop speech patterns rather quickly. Their baby teeth play an important role in this: just like permanent teeth, they provide the tongue with points of contact for making a variety of sounds. A missing tooth for a prolonged period could interfere with making certain sounds and could have a stunting effect on their speech development.
They’re important for permanent teeth eruption. Baby teeth also serve as placeholders for their successors, the permanent teeth that are in development just under the gums. A baby tooth normally remains until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt within the path set by the primary. If they’re lost prematurely, the permanent tooth may not erupt as it should; and adjacent permanent teeth can drift toward the empty space and out of alignment.
They’re part of their smile. Baby teeth help children fit in socially with adults and other children — they help them look normal. A missing tooth stands out when they smile — and not in a good way. This could impact the way they interact socially with others, extending even into adulthood.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
If you have chronic jaw pain, you know how difficult eating, speaking or even smiling can be. Many sufferers will do anything to gain relief, even surgery. But before you go down that road, consider the traditional conservative approach to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) management first—it could provide the most relief with the least risk of side effects.
The temporomandibular joints connect the lower jaw to the skull on either side of the head. These ball and socket joints also contain a cushioning disk to facilitate movement. This disk is believed to be the primary focus for jaw pain problems known collectively as TMD.
Doctors now believe injury, stress, metabolic issues, jaw anatomy defects or similar factors trigger the chain reaction of muscle spasms, pain and soreness that can erupt during a TMD episode. A TMD patient may experience pain within the jaw muscles or joints themselves, clicking sensations, or an inability to open the jaw to its full range.
TMD therapy has traditionally followed an orthopedic path—treating jaw joints like any other joint. In recent years, though, a more aggressive treatment model has emerged that promotes more invasive techniques like orthodontics, dental work or jaw surgery to relieve discomfort. But the track record for this model, especially concerning jaw surgery, remains hazy at best and offers no guarantee of relief. These techniques are also irreversible and have even made symptoms worse in some patients.
It’s usually prudent, then, to try conservative treatments first. This can include pain and muscle relaxant medication, jaw exercises, stretching and massage, and dietary changes to reduce chewing force. Patients with teeth grinding habits may also benefit from a bite guard worn at night to reduce the biting force during sleep and help the joints relax.
By finding the right mix of treatments, you may be able to find significant relief from TMD symptoms with the conservative approach. If not, you might then discuss more invasive options with your dentist. But even if your dentist recommends such a procedure, you would be wise to seek a second opinion.
TMD can definitely interfere with your quality of life and peace of mind. But there are ways to reduce its effects and make for a happier life.
If you would like more information on managing chronic jaw pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Seeking Relief from TMD.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
When you’re going through hard economic times, the natural thing to do is cut areas of spending you believe you can do without. Unfortunately, many people include regular dental care in this low-priority category.
But even if your finances have become strained you should still try to maintain your dental care if at all possible. Saving a few dollars now could cost you a lot more in the long run.
Of course, this may mean focusing on just the basics for a while and prioritize your treatment options with a strong emphasis on preventive care. To put together a plan you should first undergo a thorough dental exam to learn your mouth’s current level of health, as well as take a look at your dietary practices, family history and hygiene practices to gauge your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
From there, it’s a good idea to make changes in habits and lifestyle that will improve your teeth and gums’ long-term health, a prudent thing to do financially as well. Eat a nutritious diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products and low in added sugar. Practice daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque from tooth surfaces, a primary cause of dental disease. And, keep to a schedule of regular dental office cleanings and checkups to remove any deep-seated plaque and identify developing dental disease before it becomes too serious.
Even when we find problems, there are usually treatment options within most people’s financial ability, like newer, less-expensive tooth filling materials that are both attractive and longer lasting than older types.Â At the very least you may benefit from temporary measures that postpone a permanent restoration until you’re in a better position financially to handle it.
And, don’t hesitate to ask us for help in working out a care strategy that fits your current finances and insurance coverage. By creating these long-term goals, we can help you get the most out of your financial resources now that can save money — and provide you better oral health — in the future.
If you would like more information on managing dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
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