MERCED -- In only 14 seconds, Dr. Ajay Patel is able to get up to 200 images of a patient's jaw.
The Merced oral surgeon is able to perform that with a new three-dimensional cone-beam CT scan. With a two-dimensional CT scan, in contrast, he was only able to get one image.
Patel said the equipment is becoming the standard for care in many big cities, but he and other oral surgeons are bringing it to Merced County.
The new technology provides 3-D pictures of the upper and bottom jaws. Patel also bought additional software that allows him to get images of certain parts of the jaw while using less radiation.
"It gives us a lot more information that we would have missed otherwise," he said.
That information is also clearer and more predictable. But the machine doesn't come cheap. Patel paid more than $100,000 for it. The device used to cost as much as $200,000.
"The way I look at it, I'll get a return in the investment," he said, because it gives him a clear picture of what's going on and allows for better diagnoses.
It also provides more detail for planning implants. "We are able to do virtual surgery prior to actually touching the patient," Patel said.
He has already treated a few of his patients using this new technology. He said it's proven to be effective, adding that "doctors can prep patients ahead of time."
However, the cost of care for patients receiving treatment using the new machine is increased by $100 to $150, Patel said.
Regardless, Patel is making his patients aware of the new option they have. "We recognize it (the added cost), and it's up to the patient whether they want it or not," he said.
He is also providing educational information for his employees.
"It's a slow educational process for professionals and patients," Patel said. "There's a learning curve with formulating the information into a proper treatment plan."
Dr. Evelyn Huaman, a periodontist in Merced, brought a similar technology to the area in 2010.
Huaman uses it to look at diseases, bone loss and the anatomical features in a patient's mouth. It's helpful to show patients what their mouths look like, so they can better understand their disease, she said.
"It's been great for proper diagnosis," she said. "It's been great for patient education. It's instrumental, I think, in patients' understanding; and, surgically, I'm hoping what I'm providing to the patient is better."
Huaman said her practice was among the first dental offices to have the technology between Fresno and Modesto. Having another practice in the area with the same technology is something positive for the community, she said.
Most oral diseases are preventible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many children and adults go without simple measures that have been proven to be effective in preventing oral diseases and reducing dental care costs, according to the CDC.
"It's good for our community to try to provide people with the best technology," she said. "Even though, we are both (oral) surgeons, we all work together as a team -- our goal is to service the community the best we can."
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or email@example.com.