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New Dental School imaging system saves patients hundreds of dollars (11/13/98)

A new imaging system in the Dental School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is saving patients hundreds of dollars and providing clinicians with state-of-the-art tomography. The equipment is the first of its kind in South Texas.

Conventional radiographs (x-rays) show the width and height of teeth and bone. With tomographic images, the clinician can determine the thickness (depth) of these structures in addition to their widths and heights.

"It's a great system for the big gap between the heavily advanced and expensive imaging systems like CT scans and MRIs and just plain radiography [x-rays]," said Dr. Marden Alder, associate professor of dental diagnostic science and head of the division of maxillofacial radiology. He was referring to the CommCAT/IS-2000e Tomographic and Panoramic System.

Typically, an MRI of the head would cost about $1,000, Dr. Alder explained. A CT scan of the same region would be in the $600 to $700 range. The cost of CommCAT images is in the $200 range.

"With this equipment's 'slice through' imaging capabilities--where we see structures at different angles and at slice thicknesses as small as one millimeter--we can get clearer pictures of the head, sinuses and teeth than we can get with radiographs," Dr. Alder said. He added that the images are especially useful for dental implants.

"If a person has only two or three dental implant sites, the clinician can get the required information from this equipment at much less expense than he can get it from a CT," Dr. Alder said. "It doesn't give all of the necessary information all of the time, but it makes more sense to screen with this before going to a more expensive unit."

To acquire the tomographic images the patient is seated in the CommCAT equipment, which is linked to a computer. The computer assists the technician in positioning the patient and the radiation source for optimum tomographs. "Our patients, patients from other institutions' post-doctoral programs and patients from private clinicians are benefiting from this new technology," said Dr. Alder.

Although the system is film-based, a software program allows clinicians to scan the film images as digital images. "The clinician then can sit at his computer and manipulate the scanned images of the patient and images of various implants to see which implant would be the best," Dr. Alder said.

"He also can determine the best angle to place the implant--some very detailed pre-surgical planning is possible."

In the future the equipment can be modified to output digital images. "For our planned entry into digital radiography, both intraoral and extraoral, this equipment will fit just perfectly," Dr. Alder said.

Dr. Alder also indicated that the clearer, finer images greatly assist clinicians in treating temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and facial pain.

About three years ago the department assisted the system's manufacturer by using a prototype. "With the information we provided, the manufacturer developed this model," Dr. Alder said.

Contact: Joanne Shaw