Here is a question I have been pondering: with all of our technological advances, how can we create a quick, painless, less-expensive trip to the dentist? This seems to me to be an area ripe for improvement so I set out to research the latest in dental technology. I am hoping that some of these technologies will show up in my next visit. Here are some trends that are changing dentistry in the 21st century.
Lasers are not new but they are still an emerging technology in dentistry. A laser can drill tooth material as well as a traditional drill but faster and with less pain, and they can provide pinpoint accuracy when removing cavities. They also remove the need for injections to deaden the tooth and surrounding areas. A different wavelength laser is used to activate a bleach substance to speed tooth whitening. Lasers can also be used to help harden a filling and improve bonding to existing tooth material.
Digital scans are beginning to replace old x-rays. They produce 90% less radiation than the old film method and they do not require processing so the image is available immediately. A digital probe that can move between teeth is available as well. The probe is small enough to be comfortable but comes with its own light source and can take video or still shots. This technology makes scans quicker, safer and more accurate.
This is still in the development stage but should be coming soon to a dentist’s chair near you. A dentist could provide an image from the tool discussed above and then print a new tooth or a crown for an existing tooth. The process will be much quicker, although not instant, than creating a mold and sending it out to a lab to be made and then fitted and shaped during a second visit. This technology could benefit patients through lower cost and faster turnaround.
Some devices are being introduced that claim to remineralize teeth through a few micro-amps of electricity. Remineralization takes place naturally through eating or drinking calcium rich foods. These devices promise to accelerate that process so that teeth repair themselves and rebuild strong enamel, which would fight off cavities. This is a new technology and could prove to be revolutionary.
All of these emerging technologies are designed to reduce costs for the patient and the dentist, speed up routine procedures and reduce or eliminate pain. They will all require a fairly sizable investment from dental professionals so they may be slow to appear. My big question is this: when will we have do-it-yourself dentistry? I’d like to remineralize my own teeth or print a new one should something go wrong. I think the answer is that we will always need a professional but the procedure will become a lot easier.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.