123Dentist Answers your questions

Cone Beam Computed Tomography

CBCT (cone beam computed tomography) scanners are used by some dentists to create advanced 3D dental images of the head and neck. They’re often used in planning dental procedures, such as for dental implants, root canals, and other treatments, because they provide a full and detailed view of all of the areas of the mouth and jaw.

CBCT scanners are used by dentists and dental specialists to create three-dimensional images of the mouth and head. This technology allows dental professionals to view, monitor, and treat patients using detailed images.

CBCT Scanners in Dentistry

CBCT scanners are a variation on traditional CT scans (also called CAT scans). A CBCT scanner creates a three-dimensional radiograph (x-ray) image of an area of the body. In dentistry, they are used to create images of the oral and maxillofacial region, including dental and bone structures, airways, nerve paths, and soft tissues.

Compared to conventional dental x-rays, CBCT scans offer higher image quality and provide a far greater level of detail for dentists. Viewing the mouth in three dimensions also allows a dentist to visualize depths and volumes of the tissue more accurately, which can be a significant benefit in treatment planning.

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CT Scans Versus CBCT Scans

A CBCT scan is similar to a conventional CT scan, which can be used for virtually any part of the body and is widely used in the medical field. However, there are several important differences between the two technologies.

One main difference is in the outcome of the images. CBCT scans are typically more detailed than CT scans. Whereas CT scans construct images that represent a “slice” of the body (a section of the arm, for example), CBCT scans create a cone-shaped image with very fine details. It also takes less time to capture the images using a CBCT scanner. Combined with the cone shape of the beam, this means patients are exposed to less radiation overall in a CBCT scan.

The technology also looks different. You would recognize a typical CT scanner as a tube-like machine that takes up an entire room. A CBCT scanner is typically much smaller, with the patient standing up as the machine moves around his or her head.

When are CBCTs Used?

In dentistry, CBCT imaging is often used by dentists in many of the nine recognized dental specialties in Canada.

CBCT scans are very useful for treatment planning. Most often, dental specialists will take CBCT scans before oral surgery, including dental implant surgery, to determine the best locations for implant placement. They may also require more detailed medical imaging before wisdom teeth extraction.

Other specialists such as endodontists, prosthodontists, and orthodontists may also use CBCT scans to diagnose conditions and issues or create treatment plans.

Other common issues CBCT scans can help diagnose and treat include:

  • Infections in the tooth roots
  • Injuries and bone fractures
  • Cysts and tumours
  • Cleft palate
  • Dental caries (cavities)


How much radiation do CBCTs use?

The cone-shaped beam used in CBCT scanners means that less radiation is needed overall to create the images than in a traditional CT scan. Due to the shape of the machine and how it moves, it also captures the images more quickly, which reduces the amount of radiation exposure required.

Keep in mind that most dental imaging techniques that use radiation use it in very small amounts. Be sure to speak with your dentist or doctor about any concerns you have, including if you are pregnant.

What should I expect?

A dental CBCT scan is unlike the typical “bitewing” dental x-rays you’re probably used to having done when you’re at your dentist’s office. The CBCT is a machine that rotates around the head to take hundreds of digital x-ray images in a very short period of time. Once the scans are complete, the images are reconstructed into a 3D image using complex algorithms.

What should I do to prepare?

The scan is not invasive, but it will require you to remove any facial jewelry, hearing aids, or removable oral appliances.

How long will it take?

CBCT scans typically take around 20 minutes to half an hour to complete. Most of that time will be spent with a dental professional positioning your head and the machine to capture an accurate image of the area that needs to be in the field of view. The scan itself will usually only take a minute or so.

The total length of time of your appointment will depend on how many areas need to be scanned (you may require more than one scan, depending on the reason your dentist has requested the scan). Your dentist may also need to review the images before you leave to ensure all the necessary images have been captured.

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