Every day there are flashy examples of how technology is changing the way we live. (I’m looking at you, self-driving cars). But in my opinion, the place where technology is really shining today, is in the dental chair. That’s because while new equipment and techniques have done much to improve dental accuracy, efficiency and ability, where these improvements are really making an impact is on patients’ comfort and convenience, especially in these top three areas:
1. Crowns: the royal treatment
Not surprisingly, most patients hate the whole process of a dental crown. They hate the x-rays, the prepping of the tooth, creating the impression, and the multiple office visits needed to place the permanent restoration. That’s why when I tell my patients how much these things have changed, they are thrilled.
Better than x-rays. Let’s start with digital imaging. It’s not only faster and easier than traditional x-rays, but also lets us capture an image using 90% less radiation than was previously required. Additionally, digital cameras allow us to take an image of the tooth that can be shared with the patient for a better understanding of the issue, and then easily stored as part of our records.
Goodbye goo. And here’s the really great news. In the past, taking an impression in preparation for a crown required a patient to sit uncomfortably, waiting for a mouth full of material to set properly. Today, impressions are digital – no goo required. Instead, we use a digital camera to capture three-dimensional images of the teeth that are affected. Not only is this process fast and easy, it’s also extremely accurate. This image is then sent (via the cloud) to the lab so that the crown can be started the same day. Or, often times, the crown is created right there in the office using amazing new CAD/CAM technology that mills the tooth in just a short time.
Drilling up. There have even been advances to prepping the teeth. Today’s drills are smoother and virtually whisper quiet. And if the area is small enough, we can even use lasers to prep the tooth – quietly and without any anesthesia.
2. Getting to the root
“Root canal” is a dirty word to many people as they have heard horror stories of this process. And yet, today, I can’t even count the number of patients who have said to me, “That’s it?!” when I’ve finished.
Tech triumphs. New technology has made it a much faster procedure with minimal, if any, discomfort. In addition to new diagnostic tools and electric rotary drills, many dentists also take advantage of laser dentistry to clean the root’s canal, and rid it of infection. The results are a faster, more comfortable recovery with a decreased possibility of side effects. And procedures that used to take hours and multiple visits are often now done in well under an hour.
3. CBCT: the dental detective
One of the most exciting new technological tools in my office is my CBCT (cone beam computed tomography) equipment. It’s basically a medical cat scan for your skull.
Cancer fighter. While the CBCT machine has countless uses, one of its most important is its ability to “see” through the skull to detect abnormalities. In addition to discovering TMJ issues, airway constriction that can cause sleep apnea, missed canals in endodontically treated teeth, and wisdom tooth orientation, the CBCT is also good at finding tumors. Which is no small contribution considering that more than 50,000 cases of oral cancer were detected last year in the U.S. alone. And this type of cancer has a high rate of treatment success, but only when caught early.
Implant precision. When combined with a digital scan, CBCT technology is the ideal way to place implants. The dentist can use the scan and CBCT to plan the implant and then use a 3D printer to create a surgical stent that can then be used to create a surgical guide. This guide helps the dentist place the implant exactly where they want it so that it’s in the perfect position for the restoration.
All of these advances have made dentistry not only more effective, but also more patient friendly and affordable. And the best news, there are still so many more exciting advances on the horizon. (Here’s a sneak peek: using stem cells in rebuilding teeth.) And at the end of the day, this is the type of technology that’s going to launch us into the future – even further than any self-driving car ever could.
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