ROY -- For many people, a root canal is one of the most feared dental procedures, but with new technology, experts say a root canal can be done more precisely and accurately than ever before, causing less pain and risk for infection while preserving the tooth for a lifetime.
Dr. Jonathan Richards, a dentist at Eastlake Endodontics in Roy, uses a new technology he says is changing the way dentists look at their patient's teeth. It's called Cone Beam Commuted Tomography, or CBCT 3-D imaging.
CBCT is a high resolution image which produces a 3-dimensional X-ray of the tooth and surrounding areas. Much like a medical CT scanner, the CBCT can produce up to 600 images using limited radiation.
"While conventional X-rays provide a view of bony structures, they leave the clinician in the dark about soft tissues and blood vessels," Richards said. "With the recent invention of the dental Cone Beam CT, this technology is now making a dramatic impact on dentistry."
Richards said a few weeks ago a patient came to his office complaining of a toothache. He did the usual exam and tradition X-rays but couldn't see any problem. After taking a CBCT scan, it was easy to see an abscess that had formed on one of her molar roots. The scanner takes under 30 seconds, Richards said, and radiation dosage is up to 100 times less than that of a regular CT scan.
"CBCT scanners are significantly smaller than traditional units, so patients can be seen right in the office rather than dealing with the hassle of visiting a major medical imaging center."
The need for CBCT imaging is determined on a case by case basis, Richards said. Patients are screened with a thorough dental exam that includes traditional X-rays.
Tim Garfield of Layton had previous root canals that had to be redone.
Because the CBCT was able to precisely identify the problem, it was easier to correct.
"It really helped to find problems that many other doctors missed," he said. "It's frustrating to go and get a root canal and pay $900 and then find out you have to get it redone. Dr. Richards used the scanner to pinpoint the problem and did everything he could to make sure it didn't happen again."
The cost of the scan is approximately $100 to $200 for most cases, Richards said. To retreat a root canal, it can cost between $800 to $1,400, plus the added discomfort of possible infection and pain.
However, dental insurance has been slow to embrace newer protocols.
"I suspect this is a combination of ignorance and the tendency to look after their own financial interests before considering patient outcomes," he said. "We are finding that some insurances are beginning to offer some reimbursement but at this time, most do not consider it a covered benefit."
Garfield said it's worth the cost, especially when you consider the cost of having to repeat the procedure over and over.
The results of the scan are immediate, Richards said, allowing dentists to sit down with the patient and go over the findings. The dentist and patient then decide the best treatment options.
"The scans provide a guide for the most conservative treatment so teeth can last longer," he said. "The value is in the details and CBCT is just one of those added values to provide you with better care."