Technology and Dentistry...We've Come a Long Way!!

It never fails to amaze me that many of the basic procedures I learned 15 years ago while in dental school were based on materials and thinking nearly 100 years old! Pretty scary huh? As health care providers, we are trained to provide the best proven techniques and materials for our patients. It seems though, that up until the last decade we in the dental profession were perhaps, a bit more complacent than our medical counterparts. Fortunately, some new thinking, and great research have blasted dentistry in to a new era full of amazing technological advances! In this month’s article, I want to touch upon some of the technologies that will impact the way you are cared for at the dentist.

During the early 1990’s bonding chemistry improved by leaps and bounds, giving dentists the ability to make almost any dental material adhere to tooth structure. In the past, dental cements were simply fancy space fillers and dentists were forced to rely on mechanical properties to hold a crown or filling in. In many cases that meant drilling pins in, or drilling grooves or undercuts away from the teeth. With our new bonding techniques, we can save healthy tooth structure and place beautiful tooth colored restorations with great reliability. This is the technology that lets us place those beautiful ceramic veneers like you see on Extreme Makeover or The Swan. Almost everything we do in modern restorative dentistry owes its success to the advances in bonding chemistry.

            Likewise, computers have played a tremendous role in new treatment modalities. With computers we can now image the teeth on a screen so that our patients can see the problems as clearly as the dentist. By utilizing digital radiography with sensors instead of x-ray film we can dramatically reduce the x-ray exposure times, while obtaining images that can be manipulated to provide the best diagnostic picture. Low radiation dental C-T scans are now being utilized for unparalleled precision in implant placement, as well as evaluation of the sinuses and airway.  Computerized scanners can now detect atypical cells from a brush biopsy of the mouth allowing us to catch oral cancer at an early stage with a less invasive test. Computers are also now aiding dentists with shade selections for crowns veneers or artificial teeth. Finally, CAD-CAM technology (Computer aided design - Computer aided manufacturing) has changed dentistry in a way not seen since the advent of the high-speed drill. With this technology, crowns, onlays and veneers can be made in one appointment chairside, without the need for a dental laboratory or messy impressions. The time saved by the patient by not having to return for a second visit makes this revolutionary technique quite appealing, and the ceramic materials used more closely mimic enamel than any other dental material to date.

            What would a technology article be without mentioning lasers? It so happens that lasers have made an incredible impact on dentistry. While the early lasers were very effective for gum procedures they showed little or no promise to treat teeth or bone. With the newest generation of lasers, teeth can be prepared for fillings, root canals can be performed and bony surgery can be completed with less bleeding and inflammation.  In addition, a new laser called Diagnodent can be used to detect cavities in teeth before the dentist's sharp explorer can feel them.  By placing this low intensity laser over the tooth, a reading is obtained that very accurately tells the dentist if decay exists within.  This technology has allowed dentists to catch and restore decayed teeth with the most conservative procedures.

     From my perspective, it is certainly a great time to be a dentist, armed with these great technological marvels to aid in diagnosis and treatment.  For as much as these advances have helped dentists through, it is truly today's dental patient who benefits from the increased diagnostic abilities and conservative nature of the treatment these technologies allow us to provide.