The Importance of Safe Beam Technology

On November 22, 2010, Walt Bogdanich and Jo Craven McGinty published a front page news article in the New York Times. The article was entitled “Radiation Worries for Children in Dentists’ Chairs.”The article explains that because children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to radiation, doctors formed a national campaign three years ago to protect them. They did so by reducing diagnostic radiation levels to those that were only absolutely essential. This movement has shown many significant strides in hospitals and clinics. However, the majority of dental offices have yet to jump on board. According to the article, “Most dentists continue to use outmoded X-ray film requiring higher amounts of radiation, but orthodontists and other specialists are embracing a new scanning device that emits significantly more radiation than conventional methods, an examination by The New York Times has found.”

The scanning devices this article focuses on, are the cone-beam CT scanners, which provide brilliant 3-D images of teeth, roots, jaw and even skull. “This technology, its promoters say, is a safe way for orthodontists and oral surgeons to work with more precision and to identify problems that otherwise might go unnoticed.” Unfortunately, there is very little independent research to confirm these claims. Instead, various dentists (who have typically been paid) and manufacturers have been fueling the fire behind the cone beam’s popularity by providing misinformation about its safety and efficacy.

The New York Times article points out that “ The Journal of the American Dental Association allowed one of the leading cone-beam manufacturers, Imaging Sciences International, to underwrite an issue devoted entirely to cone-beam technology. That magazine, which the association sent to 150,000 dentists, included a favorable article by an author who has equated a cone-beam CT with an airport scan. In fact, a cone beam can produce hundreds of times more radiation, experts say.”

Cone-beam CT scans do have their selected benefits. They can help to enable dentists to deal with complex cases involving implants, impacted teeth and other serious problems. However, the problem seems to be the question of what constitutes indiscriminate use? When is it appropriate to use these scans? Researchers have began to worry that because the majority of Cone-beam CT scans contain limited guidelines and regulations, well-meaning dentists, orthodontists, and other specialists are turning to a new technology they do not fully understand. This, as a result, puts patients at risk, particularly younger ones. In discussing the Cone-beam CT scans, Keith Horner, a professor of oral radiology at the University of Manchester in Britain said “They are just pushed out there by manufacturers with the message that a 3-D image is always going to be better than a 2-D image, and that isn’t the case.”

The article explains how individuals who are leery of the cone-beam technology will agree that a single scan over a lifetime has a relatively small risk. However, patients typically will have more than a single scan over their lifetime-thus increasing the risk with each exposure. There is a quote in the article by Dr. Stuart C. White, former chairman of oral radiology at the UCLA School of Dentistry which really seems to sum this issue up. He states “So let me ask a question to the mother of a prospective orthodontic patient, would you like me to use a tool that is entirely safe — a camera — to record the position of your child’s teeth, or another method that may rarely cause cancer so that we can save time?”

“Radiation Worries for Children in Dentists’ Chairs” explains that certain critics believe aggressive marketing (such as that done by Imaging Sciences International), has produced a distorted picture of the safety and efficacy of cone-beam scanners. The majority of dentists prefer a safe way to work with more precision and to identify problems that otherwise might go unnoticed. Along with this notion, dentist, orthodontists, and oral surgeons are allured by the fact that “The cone-beam business is lucrative for manufacturers and dentists. According to one industry estimate, more than 3,000 scanners and about 30 different models have been sold, at prices up to $250,000. Dentists, some of whom charge several hundred dollars per scan, can profit by owning their own machines. “More profit per unit chair time,” promises Imaging Sciences, the cone-beam manufacturer.” It would be difficult to turn away from the too good to be true offer.

Although the information from this New York Times article seems to show a very prominent and important problem, there is hope out there for dentists who want to have a safe practice for their patients, while still obtaining more precision and maintaining a lucrative practice! There are new implementations making their way into the dental community! ImageWorks seems to be the future of 3D radiography. ImageWorks units use the "safe beam technology" for reduced radiation. According to the ImageWorks website, “Because the x-ray radiation is not on continuously, the 24-36 second duration of each scan translates to only 3.6-5.4 s of actually radiation exposure. A total of 360 individual images are taken, one per each degree of rotation. Additionally, all NewTom systems incorporate Safe Beam™ technology, which automatically senses the size of the patient and drops the radiation dose by as much as 40% for younger, smaller patients, further reducing the total amount of radiation received.”

At DentalPlanet, we believe that safe beam technology is essential. We strive to provide quality and only the best technology available. For more information about the Image Works units we offer, please stop by our website!