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What Is Thermography and How Can It Help Dental Diagnoses?

Thermography, also called medical thermal imaging, is the study and application of bio-thermal processes in an attempt to assess and diagnose potential health problems and diseases. It is, in effect, the use of thermal imaging to visually evaluate changes that are currently happening in the body.

This is opening up a lot of potential uses in dentistry. It can be used to look for things like infections and inflammation in the head and neck areas, and it can do it without shooting the patient full of radiation. Thermographic diagnoses are non-invasive and don’t rely on ionising radiation. No physical contact has to be made with the patient, so the procedure it painless, and it can all be done within minutes.

How Does it Work?

We’ve all see what a thermographic image looks like on TV and in the movies. So how do those orange, red, and yellow images actually help diagnose dental problems? Isn’t it just about spotting people in a building from a satellite or something?

Modern thermography in a clinical setting can be done on a given spot or over a larger area. It is possible to measure changes as small as 1/100th of a degree in the body’s radiant heat. This allows us to pick up physiological and functional changes in the tissues before they become noticeable structural changes that adversely affect the body. These are often referred to as “bio-markers” and they are good indications that something is going on.

For example, increased heat in a specific area means there is likely some kind of inflammation there. This could mean that there is a nascent gum infection, possible inflammation in the maxillary sinus, or abscessed teeth, or a number of other things.

And, because it could be a number of other things, it’s important to note that thermography isn’t something that is used alone to make a diagnoses. It can be used to find the approximate location of a potential problem, but then we’ll use visual examinations and other tools to confirm the initial findings.

Getting the Best Results

In order to ensure that thermographic diagnoses are providing the best results, it must be done in a highly controlled environment so that all the potential environmental variables don’t create false data.

This means that the room where the images are taken must maintain a consistent temperature, have no reflective surfaces, and doesn’t allow draughts or unexpected heat sources. The patient also needs to have time to acclimatize to the room’s temperature so everything is at a nice, even baseline.

Before taking any measurements, it’s also important to make note of any skin irregularities that could show up on a thermographic scan to make sure the things we’re seeing are, in fact, the things we think we’re seeing.

Current Dental Applications

Thermography is an effective, non-invasive way to identify problematic areas in the mouth that might get missed by other detection methods (or at least missed for many months until real problems begin to develop). By focusing on this technology, it’s possible to catch those functional and physiological changes before problematic and painful structural changes occur. For example, this technology can be used to diagnose things like:

Chronic orofacial pain – Thermography makes it easier to classify the type of pain that patients are feeling and what and where the source of the pain is, and therefore it’s easier to determine a solution.

TMJ disorders – Using thermographic technology can help us distinguish between patients who are suffering TMJ disorders and those who are undergoing other active orthodontic treatments.

Inferior alveolar nerve deficit – This nerve connects the molars and second premolars with sensory branches, and they can be damaged during certain procedures like wisdom teeth removal. Thermal imaging can help us assess this nerve deficit so we can start working on solutions.

Studies have shown that thermography can help in the assessment of various dysfunctions, diseases, and other concerns in the head and neck region. With this technology it is possible to get real qualitative and quantitative diagnoses on your dental situation. For more information, go to . We work closely with this company, and trust their work!

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Written by: Lauren S. - Half Moon Bay, CA