Why is my doctor sending me for a 3D cone beam CT scan?

Dental x-rays and 2D panographs cannot clearly see the inside of the bone, and cannot see the tongue-side of the bone at all. Only a cone beam CT (CBCT image) can create a 3D view and cross sections of the area of interest. The information provided in a CBCT scan is extremely important when placing dental implants, performing a complex root canal or extraction, planning orthodontics, evaluating the sinuses and airway, testing your TMJ (jaw joint), or looking for the source of pain or infection. Doctors want to have as much information as possible about your condition and anatomy before operating or planning; that’s why doctors refer patients for CT imaging.

How does your dental CBCT scan differ from a CT or CAT scan in a hospital?

Our dental cone beam CT emits less radiation and provides a more complete picture. Hospital CTs take a series of parallel x-ray images of the head, from top to bottom. There’s a gap between each image, and a computer uses educated guesses to fill in the gaps. This type of CT imaging is adequate (albeit with excessive radiation) for large pathology, like a skull fracture or sinus infection.

A cone beam CT circles the head, so each image or slice overlaps. There is no gap. In addition, the radiation is much weaker. Only in areas of overlap (the area of interest) is there enough radiation and data to construct a 3D model. This is why CBCT images provide a more complete image with less radiation, compared to hospital CT machines.

How much radiation is used? Should I be concerned?

An extremely small amount of radiation is emitted—but any radiation should concern you. We are the only San Francisco Bay Area imaging center to use cone beam CTs that emit “dental level” radiation (below 100 kVp), and we employ only hospital-licensed Certified Radiological Technologists to ensure each CBCT scan’s radiation is adjusted down to as low as possible while still providing a diagnostic image.

The majority of our CT scans have a radiation effective dose equivalent to four or five hours of high-altitude air flight, or 11 to 15 days of normal background radiation in the United States. Your doctor believes that this risk from radiation exposure is much less than the risk of inaccurate diagnosis or treatment from proceeding with the knowledge provided by a CBCT scan.

You can download some detailed radiation studies and references here.

Will my insurance cover this?

Maybe. Insurance is an annoying, vague black box of inconsistency. Some dental insurance plans will occasionally reimburse for some 3D imaging procedures, and some medical insurance carriers will reimburse you if you were referred by a medical doctor. We require the patient pays at the time of service. Reveal will then give you the documents you need, all filled out and ready to submit. You will submit the paperwork to your dental insurance provider for direct reimbursement.

Do I have to have a scan?

You don’t have to do anything if you’re not comfortable, except pay taxes. Your doctor may not be able to fully or accurately assess your condition or plan your treatment without this 3D cone beam CT image. Without a CBCT scan, your doctor may be diagnosing or operating with incomplete information. So no, you don’t have to have a CT scan—but you really should.

Where do babies come from?

Ask your parents.


If we haven’t answered your questions here, just call us: 888-973-8325888-973-8325 (that’s 888-9-REVEAL888-9-REVEAL). We want to make sure you’re well-informed and comfortable with our low-radiation cone beam CT scanning technology. We also like the attention; please call.