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New machine offers better dental diagnoses

February 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A futuristic CT scan is making a big difference at the dentist's office. This new tool is giving dentists a much clearer picture of what they're working with.Every year, millions of people go to their dentists complaining about pain in a tooth or in their mouth. Traditional dental X-rays often have trouble seeing the source of that pain. But now, a new type of high tech scan gives dentists an amazing 3-D view.

Every year, millions of people go to their dentist complaining about pain in a tooth or in their mouth. Traditional dental X-rays often have trouble seeing the source of that pain.

Tony Kukowski loves to eat. But not long ago, tooth pain made it difficult.

"It was a little uncomfortable eating at times," said Kukowski. "I knew something was wrong with it."

Regular X-rays didn't show a problem. So his dentist decided to get a better look with a new three-dimensional CT scan.

"It's almost like a rollercoaster ride except the chair doesn't move," said Kukowski. "The machine moves around you."

The ILUMA provides a 360-degree look at teeth and gums. Ultra-high-resolution three-dimensional pictures, instead of the shadows on traditional X-rays.

"It's like looking through the tooth like Superman, so you can see the inside of the tooth. You can see it from the top," said Dr. Joe Kravitz, DDS.

The machine exposes patients to 90 percent less radiation than traditional X-rays. As a scanner circles patients' heads, digital plates record thousands of slices of data and put them in a 3-D skull format the dentist can manipulate any way he wants.

"You get to arteries, veins and nerves. You can also see the bone, the teeth and the roots of the teeth," said Dr. Kravitz.

Dentists can zoom, spin and even cut the images to see areas a traditional scan never captures, allowing them to see problems they never could before.

"We found tumors in patients where they didn't realize they had cancer," said Dr. Kravitz.

It's more expensive than traditional X-rays, but is often covered by insurance.

In Kukowski's case, it actually uncovered a hole in his skull caused by a massive infection at the roots of his teeth.

"We were like, 'Wow, we can see why he's in so much discomfort,'" said Dr. Kravitz.

A root canal and a filling led to relief.

"Oh, it made a huge difference," said Kukowski. Now he can eat again, pain-free.

Dr. Kravitz predicts one day this machine will be the standard of care. The machine is also being used for facial reconstruction on Iraq War veterans.


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