Technology

Dental technology.The complex devices all around us — from long-range satellite links in our cars and offices to powerful computers in our hand-held gadgets — prove beyond a doubt that we live in a technology-driven world. In the field of dentistry, new technology is constantly changing the way diseases are diagnosed, routine procedures are performed, and illnesses are prevented. Although they may seem unfamiliar at first, new and improved dental technologies offer plenty of real benefits for patients. Here's a look at some of the latest examples, coming soon to (or now appearing at) a dental office near you.​

 

Laser Dentistry:
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Laser Dentistry.They are inside your laptop computer and your DVD player, present on the factory floor and the supermarket checkout line. And now, lasers are finding increasing use in dentistry. Someday soon, you may have a routine dental procedure performed with the aid of a powerful, yet highly controllable beam of laser light, instead of a drill or a probe.

 

What are dentists currently using lasers for? These devices have been proven to help in the detection and treatment of oral diseases. They can be used for treating gum disease, detecting cancer, and pinpointing tooth decay in its early stages. They can precisely remove tissue, seal painful ulcerations like canker sores, and even treat small cavities. In the future, dental laser technology will undoubtedly find even more applications.

How Do Lasers Work?

Lasers take advantage of the quantum behavior of electrons, tiny particles inside atoms. By stimulating atoms with pulses of energy, and then using a method of optical amplification, they cause the atoms to produce a beam of coherent light. Essentially, that means that they emit light which has a great deal of energy, yet can be precisely controlled. It's the combination of high energy and precision that make lasers so useful.

Where Are Lasers Being Used?

At present, the use of lasers in dentistry falls into three general categories: disease detection, soft tissue treatments, and hard tissue treatments.

There are many ways lasers can aid in diagnosis. Laser light of specific wavelength, for example, can detect tiny pits and fissures in the biting surfaces of the tooth that a traditional dental tool can't find. This enables a defect that's too small to be treated at present to be carefully monitored. Lasers can also help locate dental calculus (tartar) beneath the surface of the gums, and can even aid in the detection of oral cancer in its early stages, accurately showing where healthy tissue ends and diseased tissue begins.

For the treatment of soft tissue problems, lasers have many advantages. They are minimally invasive tools that generally involve taking away less tissue than conventional methods. Used in gum surgery, for example, lasers can treat gum disease by killing harmful bacteria deep in pockets below the gum line, and removing the diseased tissue without harming the healthy tissue. They can also remove the thin layer of cells that inhibits reattachment of the gum and bone tissues to the tooth, while sealing off the adjacent blood vessels. This type of procedure generally results in less bleeding and pain. Lasers are also effective in treating ulcers and sores on the lips or gums.

Lasers are even finding increasing use for hard-tissue procedures, like the treatment of dental caries and cavities. Not only are they more exact in the amount of material they remove, but they eliminate the noise and vibration of the dental drill, which is uncomfortable for some patients.

As lasers become more common in the dental office, these high-tech tools will be integrated into routine dental practice. This promising technology already offers some real benefits, and is sure to find increasing use in the near future.

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Digital X-Rays:

Digital X-Rays.It's almost impossible to imagine the practice of dentistry without x-ray technology. Radiographs (x-ray pictures) allow dentists to diagnose and treat problems not yet visible to the naked eye, including early tooth decay, gum disease, abscesses and abnormal growths. There is no question that since x-rays first became available a century ago, this diagnostic tool has prevented untold suffering and saved countless teeth. Now, state-of-the-art digital x-rays have made the technology even safer and more beneficial.

Digital x-ray technology uses a small electronic sensor placed in the mouth to capture an image, which can be called up instantly on a computer screen. When digital x-rays first became available about 20 years ago, they immediately offered a host of advantages over traditional x-ray films, which require chemical processing. Most importantly, they cut the amount of radiation exposure to the dental patient by as much as 90%. While faster x-ray films have been developed over the years that require less exposure, making that difference less dramatic, a digital x-ray still offers the lowest radiation dose possible.

Advantages of Digital X-Rays

Besides minimizing radiation exposure, digital x-rays offer numerous advantages to dentists and patients alike. These include:

  • No chemical processing & no waiting. Because there is no film to process with digital x-rays, there is no waiting for pictures to develop — and no toxic chemicals to dispose of. Your dentist can immediately show you the pictures on a computer screen for easy viewing.
  • A clearer picture. It's possible to get more information from digital x-rays because they are sharper and can be enhanced in a number of ways. The contrast can be increased or decreased, and areas of concern can be magnified. It's even possible to compare them on-screen to your previous x-rays, making even the minutest changes to your tooth structure easier to detect.
  • Easy sharing and storage. Digital x-rays provide a better visual aide for you, the patient, to understand your diagnosis and treatment options. They can be e-mailed to different locations; they are also far less likely to be misplaced.
  • X-Rays and Your Safety

    While digital technology has minimized the health risks of x-rays, it has not entirely eliminated it. X-rays are a type of radiation used to penetrate the tissues of the body to create an image. In doing so, there is always a slight possibility of causing changes at the cellular level that might lead to future disease. Of course, there are sources of radiation present in the daily environment — the sun, for example — that can also cause disease. It's important to note that the chance of this happening is thought to be cumulative and not based on a single exposure. Still, x-rays are not considered risk-free regardless of how technology reduces your exposure. That's why dentists will only use them when the benefit of obtaining better diagnostic information outweighs the procedure's small risk. This is particularly true of computed tomography or CT scans, which can raise the level of exposure, yet yield a tremendous amount of information per scan. No matter which technology is being used, each case is considered individually, and your safety is always paramount. If you have questions about why an x-ray is being recommended for you, please feel free to ask.

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    Laser Decay Diagnostic:
  • Diagnodent.Laser technology is becoming quite commonplace in a wide variety of areas throughout the healthcare industry; but did you know that it can now be used to detect tooth decay? Today, using a small, handheld device, it is possible to detect tooth decay that is not yet visible and would otherwise be undiagnosed by conventional methods alone.

    Plus, traditional methods of detecting tooth decay are much more accurate and efficient when laser technology is included by your dentist. You can expect:

  • dramatically improved early cavity detection
  • reduced size and possibly number of fillings that might be needed, thus possibly lowering the cost of dental treatments
  • reduced chances of unnecessary exploration of teeth that are suspected to have cavities
  • Laser decay diagnosis.

    Here's how it works

    Using this noninvasive technology, your teeth are scanned to examine their structure. Laser cavity detection is based on the fact that healthy tooth structure reflects light, or “fluoresces,” differently than does decayed tooth structure. Healthy teeth will have little-to-no fluorescence while teeth with decay display with a higher level of fluorescence. And the higher the fluorescence, the more advanced the tooth decay. Once the scan is complete, the fluorescence readings are converted into a digital numeric output. You will also “hear” when you have decay present, as changes in fluorescence and numeric value are emitted as an audio signal that goes up in tone as it denotes the presence of decay.

    Why is this so important?

    Tooth decay may be more difficult to detect today than it was in the past. Why? It's probably due in part to improved oral hygiene, and, ironically, the increased use of fluoride in toothpaste and in tap water. While fluoride has proven invaluable at protecting teeth by hardening their outer enamel surface, that increased hardness can sometimes conceal even aggressive decay. As a result, tooth decay can be difficult to find, even with the use of traditional x-rays.

    Furthermore, prior to using a laser scanner, dentists depended upon x-rays and using fine picks to identify cavities. However, using laser technology provides about a 90% accuracy rate for identifying suspicious areas and cavities. This translates to earlier detection, less tooth structure loss resulting in stronger teeth, less time spent in the dental chair, and, ultimately, a financial savings to you.

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