New Developments in Dental Technology are Bringing Smiles to Patients’ Faces.
By Kate Rader
If you haven’t been to the dentist lately, well—you haven’t been to the dentist. Keeping up with cleaning appointments may have seemed like a chore in the past, but new technologies have transformed the way dentists view, diagnose, and treat patients’ teeth—taming the less comfortable aspects of dental care while streamlining the process and lessening their impact on the environment.
Dentists like Dr. Gary Davis of Davis Family Dentistry in Shippensburg, Pa., care about the relationships they form with patients and want them to have a good experience. “For more than 30 years I’ve enjoyed building the long-term relationships I have with patients—helping them with cavity prevention, treatment options, and educating them about their oral health,” he says. Both he and Dr. Bruce Burley of Hagerstown Smiles agree that advances in dental technologies have been important in improving quality of care for their patients.
New digital diagnostic tools, like digital x-rays, provide patients with high-quality images with a significant reduction in radiation exposure—as much as 90% less than with film. Dr. Davis uses digital imaging in place of traditional intraoral x-rays (think bitewing) and a Panorex machine to capture panoramic views of the entire jaw including the teeth, temporomandibular joints (TMJs), and sinuses.
At Hagerstown Smiles, the portable Nomad digital x-ray unit is brought to the patient’s room, allowing them to stay in one place for imaging. These machines are also much friendlier to the environment because they no longer use chemicals to process film.
During an exam, Hagerstown Smiles employs a wand-shaped digital camera small enough to access the tightest of spaces, enabling them to show patients an actual photo of conditions in their mouth. Dr. Burley says the software lets them snap digital images to store and print off for patient education. They’re also handy when doing smile makeovers for before/after photos and documenting conditions like heavy plaque and tartar, broken teeth, and suspicious oral lesions that could potentially be oral cancer.
Recall those sticky impressions that often make you gag? Intraoral scanning technology eliminates the need for goopy trays and instead uses a wand to scan the surface of the teeth, increasing the fit rate for crowns to almost 100%.
Dr. Davis takes digital impressions for crowns using a “cad-cam” scanner, which sends them to the lab where a crown is using 3D printing technology. At Hagerstown Smiles, the iTero machine “captures thousands of dental images per second,” Dr. Burley says, creating a digital model from which crowns, bridges, dentures, night guards, and more are made.
To detect cavities, Dr. Davis’s practice uses the DIAGNOdent, a pen-like laser that can spot even tiny cavities more comfortably by reflecting off the tooth and sending a signal indicating whether it’s sensed hard enamel or cavity. “Previously, we used a dental pick and x-ray to detect cavities, but this technology can detect a really small cavity so we can take care of it sooner when it’s smaller and less expensive for the patient,” he says. “Patients love it—it saves tooth structure, keeps patients from being in pain and they save money, too.”
Dental technology can do more than just make a patient’s visit more comfortable, it can have long-lasting benefits that impact wellbeing.
Composite fillings that better match the natural color of the tooth have been around since the late 1960s, improving in durability in the 2000s. But Dr. Davis notes that more recently, tooth filling technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Many fillers now contain materials that are extremely hard, have better color matching, and last a longer time. Previously, a silver amalgam filling would last about five to seven years, but the new white composites, which are reinforced with silica, glass, quartz, and ceramics, last for up to 12–15 years.
More accessible than ever, Dr. Burley implements DNA testing for some patients, which can identify specific types of bacteria that cause gum disease. Gum disease has been implicated as a cofactor in many systemic diseases such as heart disease, forms of Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. “By testing the bacterial DNA, we can target the specific cause of periodontitis, and then tailor non-surgical treatment to eliminate the specific bacterial infection that’s causing the gum disease,” he says.
“Our patients are loving these incredible new tools. They save time, reduce the hassle of moving from room to room, and reduce waste in the office. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.”
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