Lasers to repair your teeth. Wi-Fi and auto-adjustments built right into the dentist’s chair. Computer-assisted design and manufacturing of crowns, bridges and implants.
In this special Inspire Health dental section, we’ll explore some of the cutting-edge technology that’s significantly altering how dentists perform their work. Take the aforementioned lasers, for example. No, we’re not talking Han Solo’s blaster here — these are diode lasers, which more closely resemble the device used in a DVD player than in a sci-fi flick.
That’s not to say the technology doesn’t have a distinctly sci-fi feel. Diode lasers can be used to clean cavities before they’re filled, eliminating the need for a drill (and reducing discomfort). They also can detect tiny cavities that may have otherwise been missed: the lasers make the decaying teeth glow — the more decay, the brighter the glow.
Lasers can also be used on soft tissue in the mouth — for instance, during gum disease treatments. They’re an alternative to incisions traditionally made with a scalpel — and can then cauterize those incisions, eliminating the need for sutures.
According to an article that ran in Dentistry iQ, a trade publication for dental professionals, some of the benefits of lasers include reduced bleeding, reduced pain or discomfort during and after the treatment, decreased swelling and a reduction in bacteria at the site of the dental work — not to mention decreased time in the dentist’s chair.
You may also have noticed that your dentist is doing X-rays differently. Many providers have switched to digitized X-rays, which are faster and more sensitive than film X-rays. A special electronic sensor is placed in your mouth to capture the image, which is then sent to a computer for almost immediate viewing. Other benefits include a lower dose of radiation — the system is more sensitive than film — as well as the ability to check the bone supporting your teeth and the ability to store all the images on a computer, where the dentist can compare them over time to see if anything has changed.
In another advancement worthy of science-fiction, dentists can now use a 3-D scanner to gather precise measurements of a patient’s mouth. The images and information are then sent to a type of 3D printer that will quickly create a custom-fit dental appliance — such as a set of dentures or a bridge — saving time by reducing the number of office visits needed to get an accurate, comfortable fit.
Dental instruments can now “talk” to each other as well, and even remember a patient’s specific information. For instance, a dentist’s chair can store the optimum height and tilt from your last visit, then adjust accordingly when you return. Software can regulate the water system, sterilizers and washers. Instruments can receive software updates from their manufacturer, and if there’s a problem, can be checked remotely to discover the source and solution.
Materials for veneers — the custom-made shells that are used to cover crooked or unattractive teeth — have improved, too. Now they can be made much thinner than before without sacrificing strength. To apply a veneer, some of the tooth must be shaved and reshaped; the advantage of the new, thinner materials is that you can keep more of your original tooth.
Bonding and filling materials have seen advancements as well. Bonding — used to repair a chipped tooth — now looks more natural. Newer materials are a type of plastic resin that not only offer a wider range of shades, but last longer, too.
Dentists have also been turning to more natural-looking fillings. Created from composites (a combination of glass and plastic) or porcelain, they avoid the “metal mouth” look of traditional amalgam fillings. The composite is placed in layers and a special light is used to harden each one. Finally, the composite is shaped so to fit the tooth, then polished to keep out stains.
Implants, too, have been taking center stage — and are often being used instead of dentures. A titanium, screw-like device is fused with the jawbone; then an abutment and crown can be placed over that. An implant can be used to replace a single tooth or several teeth.
The process has been perfected to the point that procedures can now sometimes be done in a day — unlike in the past, when a dental bridge could take six months and multiple appointments to complete. Even better, pain and discomfort have been significantly reduced, too, to the point that sometimes patients need just over-the-counter medication.