The potential of high resolution, three-dimensional (3D) images which overcome limitations such as superimposition and anatomical noise of two-dimensional (2D) conventional imaging, has made cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) an increasingly popular imaging modality in many dental applications. It is in light of the increasingly prevalent use of CBCT, particularly in a primary dental care setting, that the goal of this review is to investigate what evidence-based guidance is available to the clinician to justify and reduce radiation risk of this higher dose imaging modality while maintaining diagnostically acceptable images. To this end, the literature on radiation dose and related patient risk was comprehensively investigated, before an analysis of the ways in which dose can be optimized and the implications that optimization has on image quality was discussed. Finally, although it is accepted that CBCT has the potential to improve diagnosis, it is uncertain if its use has positive ramifications on issues of diagnostic efficacy, including clinical decision-making and patient outcome. In order to investigate these issues, the levels of evidence of the existing studies and their validity were assessed. On review of the available literature, it is evident that there is limited practical advice available to dentists regarding dose optimization and any existing protocols may not be readily transferable to every CBCT machine, the manufacturers' role is not often conducive to dose limitation and that the bulk of evidence is at lower levels of evidence. Furthermore, there is minimal supporting evidence to suggest an impact of CBCT on diagnostic thinking and consequent choice of treatment and no evidence of a positive effect of CBCT on patient outcome.

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