Three-Dimensional Basics: What’s the Difference between 2D and 3D Technology?

Whether it is in printing or imaging technology, 3D seems to be a frequently spoken of topic for many us. As an Oral and Maxillofacial radiologist, I certainly have my own opinions on the matter, and I am often asked to share them with my peers when speaking at conferences and seminars across the nation. To that end, I would like to tackle this topic in depth by covering every aspect of 3D—including what makes it different from 2D digital dental technology.

Although 3D imaging shouldn’t be used as a primary choice without analyzing the risks vs. benefits to patients, incorporating a 3D imaging system into your practice could provide several benefits, including:

  • Improved diagnoses and treatment planning – enhanced images allow you to see more than you can with 2D alone
  • Better patient communication – patients are more likely to comprehend with their diagnosis when the clinician can point out the problem on a more realistic 3D image rather than a static 2D image
  • Increased case acceptance – 3D imaging software allows you to map out treatment plans so patients can make better-informed decisions regarding their proposed treatment plan

Differences between 2D and 3D Images

While 2D radiographs are a static image taken of a specific area of interest, 3D imaging uses rotating cone shaped beams of X-rays to take images that are then reconstructed to form multiplanar images, cross sectionals and 3D surface renderings that have much higher sensitivity in diagnosing pathology. To break down the biggest differences between these two imaging forms, I created the table below:

Categories 2D Imaging 3D Imaging
Images Flat Image MPR & Cross-sectional images made up of multiple thin slices
Distinction of Structures Anatomical Structures are overlapped (superimpositions) Isolated visualization of structures
Clarity Distortions are possible Anatomical accuracy can be achieved
Image Manipulation Single image for manipulation DICOM stacks available for manipulation


The underlying theme when it comes to the differences between 2D imaging and 3D imaging is that 3D technology allows dental specialists to uncover critical information that could be subdued while 2D imaging is solely relied upon.

Have you incorporated 3D imaging into your practice yet? If so, what advice would you give others who are interested in this technology?

Author: Shailesh Kottal, D.D.S.

Dr. Kottal is an oral and maxillofacial radiologist. He trained at University of Missouri -Kansas City and is a clinical assistant professor at New York University's College of Dentistry, where he operates all advanced imaging services. Dr. Kottal is currently the Director, 3D Imaging for Carestream Dental.