A Guide to Interpreting Dental CBCT Scans

A Guide to Interpreting Dental CBCT Scans


Cone beam CT scans have revolutionised the field of dentistry by providing detailed three-dimensional images of the oral and maxillofacial region. These scans are invaluable for diagnosing and planning treatment for various dental and maxillofacial conditions. However, interpreting CBCT scans requires a thorough understanding of the technology and anatomy. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the process of interpreting a 3D dental scan.

Understanding the Basics

Before delving into interpretation, it’s essential to grasp the basics of CBCT scan technology. Unlike traditional two-dimensional dental X-rays, CBCT scans produce 3D dental scan images by rotating an X-ray source around the patient’s head. This process generates a series of 2D images that are then reconstructed into a 3D volume. These high-resolution images provide a comprehensive view of the oral and maxillofacial region, making them indispensable for diagnosis and treatment planning.

Interpreting the CBCT Scan

  1. Anatomy Familiarisation:

To interpret a cone beam CT scan effectively, you must be well-versed in oral and maxillofacial anatomy. Familiarize yourself with structures such as teeth, bones, nerves, blood vessels, sinuses, and soft tissues. A strong anatomical foundation is crucial for accurate diagnosis.

  1. Viewing Software:

3D dental scans are typically viewed on specialized software. Learn how to navigate the software to adjust settings like contrast, brightness, and orientation. Most software allows you to view the scan from various angles and slice planes, facilitating a comprehensive assessment.

  1. Bone Density:

One of the primary uses of CBCT scans is assessing bone density. Different shades of grey on the scan represent varying densities of tissues. Dense structures like bones will appear white or light gray, while less dense tissues will appear darker. Pay attention to bone quality and quantity, as it’s essential for implant planning and evaluating fractures.

  1. Teeth:

Cone beam ct scans provide detailed images of individual teeth. Look for issues such as cavities, root canals, fractures, or anomalies in tooth development. Measurements can also be taken to assess tooth dimensions for various procedures.

  1. Nerves and Blood Vessels:

Identify the location of major nerves (e.g., inferior alveolar nerve) and blood vessels (e.g., carotid artery) in proximity to the dental structures. This information is vital for avoiding complications during dental procedures, especially extractions or implant placements.

  1. Pathologies and Abnormalities:

Scrutinise the CBCT scan for any anomalies or pathologies. This may include cysts, tumors, abscesses, or impacted teeth. The 3D nature of cone beam CT scan allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of such conditions.

  1. Sinuses and Airway:

Assess the sinus CT scan for any signs of sinusitis or pathology. CBCT scans can also be used to evaluate the upper airway, which is useful for sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment planning.

  1. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ):

Evaluate the TMJ for signs of degeneration, displacement, or disorders. Cone beam CT scans provide a detailed view of the joint, aiding in the diagnosis of TMJ-related issues.

  1. Soft Tissues:

While CBCT scans primarily focus on hard tissues, they can capture soft tissue structures such as muscles and glands. These may be relevant in specific cases, such as evaluating the salivary glands or soft tissue masses.


Interpreting 3D dental scans is a skill that combines a deep understanding of dental and maxillofacial anatomy with proficiency in CBCT scan technology and viewing software. A comprehensive assessment of these cone beam ct scans can aid in accurate diagnosis and treatment planning, leading to better outcomes for patients. Always consult with a dental radiologist or specialist for challenging cases and to ensure the highest level of accuracy and patient care.

Please click here to download our reporting template. Please note that to interpret/report on Dental CBCT scans, it is mandatory to complete the Level Two (Further) Training in Dental CBCT Justification and Interpretation course. For more information on this CBCT course and to book your place on our face to face cohort taking place on 10th May in Birmingham, please click here.