Cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) has been developed in recent years specifically for use in the dental and maxillofacial regions and is gradually establishing itself as the imaging modality of choice in certain clinical situations. It is also referred to as digital volume tomography or cone beam volumetric imaging. As described later, the size of the volume or field of view (FOV) of the maxillofacial skeleton imaged varies; as a result CBCT scans are often described by their field of view:
Considerable controversy exists as to the main indications for CBCT and robust clinical research justifying its use is limited. Some authorities argue that CBCT should be regarded as almost routine for all dental and maxillofacial applications, while others argue that CBCT should not be used unless the results of the examination are going to alter patient management as the technique delivers a higher dose than conventional two-dimensional imaging. In 2011 the European-wide Safety and Efficacy of a New and Emerging Dental X-ray Modality SEDENTEXCT project published guidelines based on what evidence was available at that time. These guidelines, and a more cautious approach to the justified use of CBCT, are endorsed by the authors. Hence the indications summarised below are based broadly on the SEDENTEXCT recommendations.
Clinical examples illustrating many of these indications are included in later chapters.
Multiple CBCT machines are currently available with new, upgraded models launched regularly by most manufacturers of X-ray equipment. Almost all modern machines resemble panoramic units, as shown in Fig. 16.1.
All equipment employs a cone-shaped X-ray beam (rather than the flat fan-shaped beam used in conventional CT as described in Chapter 18) and a special detector (e.g. an image intensifier linked to a charge-coupled device (CCD) or, more commonly, an amorphous silicon flat panel). The scanning/image creation process divides into three stages:
The patient is positioned with the unit (as described later). The equipment orbits around the patient in a 180°, 270° or 360° rotation, taking approximately 5–40 seconds, and in one cycle or scan, images a cylindrical or spherical volume referred to as the field of view (FOV). As all the information/data is obtained in the single scan, the patient must remain stationary throughout the exposure. As described earlier, the FOV can vary in size enabling small, medium or large volumes of a patient to be imaged. Using a large field of view (e.g. 15 cm3) most of the maxillofacial skeleton fits within the cylindrical or spherical shape and is imaged in the one scan as shown in Fig. 16.2.
Having obtained data from the one scan, the computer then divides the volume into tiny cubes or voxels (ranging in size between 0.076 mm3 and 0.4 mm3) and calculates the X-ray absorption in each voxel. As with pixels in two-dimensional digital imaging, described in Chapter 5, each voxel is allocated a number and then allocated a colour from the grey scale from black through to white. Typically one scan contains over 100 million voxels. The overall image resolution clinically of hard tissues (teeth and bones) is generally very good in CBCT imaging, although measured spatial resolution (3–4 line pairs/mm) is not yet as good as two-dimensional film-based or digital imaging (10–25 lp/mm) (see Chapter 4). Using a smaller voxel size potentially increases the spatial resolution but increases the radiation dose. Even so CBCT cannot be used to examine the soft tissues in detail because of the size of the kV and types of detectors used and the amount of scatter. Essentially all that can be seen is the outline of the soft tissues where it interfaces with air.