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3-D scans help dentists get to root of problem

December 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Dentists take X-rays to find out what's going on inside your mouth. But in many cases those images don't give dentists the whole picture, especially when it comes to unexplained pain. Now 3-D technology is helping dentists get a better look.

A root canal in Madeline Jones's lower left side should have been a sure fix. But her nerve pain never went away.

"And all that time I was in pain, I felt no one believed me. Or thought I was crazy," said Madeline.

For six years, it kept getting worse. Madeline would go to her dentist in tears.

"And I had gotten to the point where I said that 'I want you to pull this tooth," said Madeline.

Looking at her dental X-rays, her tooth looked perfectly healthy.

"So she's having pain in this tooth. We take an X-ray. Everything looks normal. We can't figure out why she would be having pain, because I don't see any infection here," said periodontist Dr. Kamini Kapoor.

To get to the bottom of this medical mystery, Dr. Kapoor used new technology.

A 3-dimensional-imaging machine uses cone-beam radiation to take a 360-degree picture of your entire head. The images can be sliced up and doctors can view things that can never be captured on a normal X-ray.

"That's a canal that never got sealed. It never got filled and it never got sealed. That's where the pain is coming from," said Kapoor.

Instead of the normal three, Madeline had four roots in her molar. One never got treated and she had a bad infection.

Dentists finally sealed the root. But without the technology, Madeline probably would have lost her tooth. Or maybe doctors would have made a lucky guess.

"You would be opening up the tooth, guessing. Maybe you were right, maybe you were wrong, you wouldn't know before you start. This way you know exactly. There's no doubt about what you're doing," said Kapoor.

Kapoor says if you're having unexplained pain, it would be worth it to find a dentist office that offers 3-D CT scans.

Madeline saved her tooth and she's pain-free. She advises other patients to be persistent.

"Don't give up. You can't give up. And your teeth, you should try and hold onto them as long as possible," said Madeline.