Oral radiology is a medical specialty which focuses on the creation and interpretation of diagnostic images of the mouth and surrounding area. Dentists utilize oral radiology in their practices, as do head and neck surgeons, maxillofacial surgeons, and other members of the medical profession who work around the head and neck. In some regions, oral radiology is a recognized medical subspecialty and people such as dentists and radiologists can apply for board certification in this area. Board certification indicates a high level of competence as well as a commitment to excellence in the field.
Numerous medical imaging techniques can be used for studies of the oral cavity, teeth, jaw, and neck. These include ultrasound imaging, x-ray imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scanning, and so forth. Oral radiologists study all of these imaging techniques, becoming familiar with how they work and the ways in which they can be used. This includes a thorough grounding in radiation physics so that oral radiologists are familiar with the risks of radiation exposure and methods which can be used to control it.
While a trained dentist or radiologist can often take good quality images of the head and neck area, an oral radiologist is sometimes called in for a challenging case. These medical specialists can also be involved in the interpretation of the images. Familiar with thousands of cases, a specialist in oral radiology can spot and interpret even faint markings which may provide important insights into a patient's situation.
These medical professionals can evaluate abnormalities, identify problems, make recommendations for treatment to other members of the medical team, and be involved in follow-up care to confirm that a procedure has worked for the patient. They may also be involved in the ongoing monitoring of at-risk populations, performing imaging studies to identify emerging problems.
Radiology should not be confused with radiation therapy. Both involve the use of radiation, but in different ways. In radiation therapy, therapeutic doses of radiation are applied to a patient for the purpose of medical treatment. Radiation of the head and neck is most commonly performed for cancer treatment, and is supervised by a head and neck oncologist or a general oncologist, not an oral radiologist, a specialist in the use of radiation for imaging, not treatment. A related field, interventional radiology, involves the use of imaging to guide a medical procedure such as the placement of a catheter. A specialist in oral radiology may also be certified in interventional radiology, and can perform procedures like angiograms, which use tracer dyes and medical imaging to study the vascular system.