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What is Cephalometry?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Cephalometry is measurement of the human head, using highly accurate techniques to obtain very detailed information. X-ray imaging is a common technique, as it allows people to create a record of the skull's appearance and shape. Three dimensional medical imaging of the head and skull is also available. There are a number of applications for cephalometry, including in reconstructive surgery to repair injuries or defects to the head and face.

Any number of medical professionals can use measuring tools to record aspects of a patient's face, like the space between the eyes, the size of the ears, and so forth. Using X-ray imaging, people can map measurements onto an underlying skull structure. It is also possible to take measurements directly from X-ray or three dimensional imaging and some computer programs will automatically calculate them for convenience and a high degree of accuracy.

One reason to use cephalometry is in plastics, where the surgeon wants detailed information about the patient's facial structure to use in preparing for surgery. The surgeon will map out a plan on the basis of these measurements and can follow up afterward to make sure the results are even and aesthetically pleasing. For things like implants, very precise positioning is important to make them look natural and feel comfortable for the patient. Whether a surgeon is doing cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, the measurements are an important step in the process.

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Orthodontics specialists can also use cephalometry. They may need to measure the head to get information about the shape and size of the jaw. This is useful for developing dental prosthetics, including aesthetic fittings like dental veneers. If a prosthesis does not fit properly it can cause pain and discomfort and may lead to complications in the future, in addition to looking odd. Taking the time to measure the face carefully will help practitioners plan prosthetics and dental implants appropriately.

Obstetricians may also rely on cephalometry to determine fetal skull size. This is useful for finding out how long the baby has been gestating, and making decisions about labor and delivery. If the skull is unusually large, it may not be safe to deliver vaginally, and the doctor may recommend surgery rather than risking injury to mother or child in labor. Forensic scientists also rely on cephalometry to determine victim identity and record data about the characteristics of a body; certain characteristics tend to be more common in particular races, and reviewing the skull can help people narrow down information about age and ethnic origin. It can also be useful for constructing a model of the person's face in life, for distributing to see if it's possible for friends or family to offer an identification.

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