My best friend is alive today because he had a dental appointment. What began as just a routine preventive care appointment, soon became the crucial discovery of a developing squamous cell carcinoma on the side of his tongue. If he had not made that dental appointment, those cancerous cells would very likely not have been caught in time. So it is no exaggeration to say that thanks to dentistry and early detection, my best friend is here today – and been living cancer free for the past seven years.
This is perhaps one of the more dramatic examples of just how dentistry offers a great deal more than just “cleanings and fillings.” Indeed, technical advances have made all services not just more comprehensive, but also simpler, faster, more convenient and more comfortable. Whether you want to see the dental hygienist for a “cleaning” (preventive care appointment) or the dentist to get something fixed (restorative services), advanced products and techniques will leave you smiling like never before.
Using Technology to Get the Most from Preventative Care
Let’s start with the truly life-saving advances. While screening patients for tissue abnormalities has long been standard practice during the “check-up” appointment, new LED lights and specially-lensed glasses make the detection of early lesions easier than ever. And measuring the depth of gum pockets to assess tissue health – also standard practice – has been accelerated through computer-based voice-activation.
The way we “see” the teeth, mouth and oral-health related issues has changed for the better as well. Intra-oral cameras allow the patient to see exactly what the dentist and hygienist see to dramatically improve communication between the patient and the oral health team. Additionally, digital radiographs enhance patient safety and give dental professionals an instant view of the oral tissues, including teeth, supporting bone and adjacent structures. Easily shared, these digital images can be quickly emailed to another dentist, specialist, or third party for additional input, or simply in support of a claim for reimbursement.
And even procedures as basic as tooth polishing have benefitted from technological advances. When I was a child, the rotating rubber cup filled with cleaning paste tickled and left my mouth feeling gritty. Today’s air/water polishers, however, are game changers. Spraying a pleasantly flavored, fine abrasive powder, they remove stains quickly and easily, and leave you with sparkling, plaque-free, smooth-feeling teeth.
And finally, updated educational software has made it easier to describe numerous procedures in detail to help further enhance a patient’s understanding of his or her oral health status.
How Advances Are Making Restorative Procedures Less of a Pain
Today’s technology has made the prospect of restorative procedures much less daunting, time-consuming and intimidating as well. New scanning technology alone has practically originated the idea of “same-day dentistry.” Scanning means that today’s crown and bridge patients no longer have to endure a mouthful of goopy impression paste to record the shape of a tooth that is about to be restored.
Instead, thousands of photographs – recorded in seconds by a hand-held computerized scanner – are used to create a 3D image of all the structures necessary to complete the final restoration. Then CAD-CAM dentistry creates beautiful, durable, tooth-colored 3D crowns that can be applied on the spot. Which means that restoring badly broken teeth to health and function can now be generated in minutes while the patient waits. Not only does this save time, but it also makes it unnecessary for the patient to be anesthetized again.
Speaking of “getting numb,” dental anesthesia is now more comfortable than ever. Buffered anesthesia can be injected painlessly through computer-guided syringes. And new anesthetic products enable the patient to get numb quicker, reducing the length of some appointments.
And just as in preventative dentistry, advances in digital radiography benefit restorative services as well. CBCT or “cone-beam” radiographs provide a 3D view of the oral tissues, enhancing diagnosis and treatment-planning alike. Challenging surgical procedures, the identification of a cracked tooth, or the planning of a complicated implant-supported crown and bridge case are just some of the tasks simplified by this technology.
There’s no question about it. Technological advances have made today’s dentistry more efficient, effective, and even more pleasant. If you haven’t seen your family dentist in a while, pick up the phone and make that appointment. After all, it could even save your life, or at the very least, make it a little easier.