Millions of Americans experience anxiety about going to the dentist. Much of this can be chalked up to Hollywood sensationalism, but there’s no doubt that not so long ago, dentists were hindered by inadequate tools and techniques that made getting your teeth worked on not much fun.

But if you haven’t stepped into a modern dentist office recently, you might be surprised by what you’ll discover. Technological advances have made the experience more pleasant than ever before, and that trend is only going to continue as new products become available. Just as your interactions with technology have changed (smartphone with you 24/7, home assistants, contactless payments etc.), so have they changed in a modern dental office.   

Take a look at how oral care has changed and what the latest research and advances in dentistry mean for the industry and patients in the coming years.

Dental intraoral cameras

Intraoral cameras allow dentists to scan the entire mouth in minutes.

 

More Comfortable Visits and More Accurate Results

Shaking the perception that a trip to the dentist means having a bunch of stuff shoved in your mouth while you’re prodded and scraped is an uphill battle, but products like intraoral scanners are helping immensely.

Digital scanners like the one we use here at Bunker Hill Dentistrythe iTero Element 2–are small wands that facilitate scanning of molars in the back of the mouth in a process that is much less frequently gag-inducing than previous scanning methods. What’s more, the 3D images are captured and displayed in real time, saving potentially days or even weeks waiting for results to return from a lab and allowing the dentist to show the patient exactly what they are seeing in the mouth.

For example, our scanner integrates with Invisalign software so we can show patients a simulation of how their Invisalign treatment will progress. Patients benefit from the improved accuracy of the system and are more informed thanks to the openness of the technology.

Greater precision and less discomfort are also key benefits of single tooth anesthesia. With the assistance of computer guidance that pinpoints intraligamentary tissue, dentists can now numb just one tooth instead of an entire jaw or lip, simultaneously maximizing the numbness in the desired tooth and avoiding the awkward sensations of collateral numbness.

It’s even possible now to skip anesthesia altogether in certain cases, through the use of a laser. Dentists are using lasers to whiten teeth, perform biopsies, and treat tooth decay, gum disease, canker sores, and more with lasers instead of drills, often resulting in lower anxiety and less pain.

 

Invisalign Tweaks

Invisalign single-handedly revolutionized braces two decades ago, but recent advances in the clear, removable aligners has opened the door to even more people being able to benefit from the technology–even those with complex orthodontic problems. Through attachments such as “buttons,” elastics, and power ridges, the aligners can now address such issues as teeth gaps, overbites and underbites, and crowded or misaligned teeth.

Also, whereas previously patients used aligners for two weeks before progressing to the next in the series, the new aligners are changed each week. The change has cut the average time wearing Invisalign in half, in some cases. The company’s new “SmartTrack” plastic is also more comfortable and makes the aligner easier to put in and take out.

 

More Health-Conscious Materials and Techniques

Dentists have made use of silver amalgams as filling material for decades, which contain up to 50% mercury, because they’re inexpensive and long-lasting. The American Dental Association (ADA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider the low levels of mercury vapor given off to be safe for anyone over the age of 5.  

Nevertheless, there are some critics of the use of amalgams. And today, anyone who is allergic to a certain material or otherwise not comfortable using it has several alternative options including zirconia, gold, ceramics such as porcelain, glass ionomer, and composite resins. The latter are excellent choices for repairing prominent, front teeth because they can be closely matched to existing teeth. However, it may take further advances in the use of these materials to resolve the cost and durability issues that make them less popular than amalgams at present.      

Health is also an area where intraoral scanners provide benefit. Digital scanners give off as little as 10% of the radiation of conventional imaging methods.

 

The Future of Dentistry: Stem Cells, IoT, and AI

Many promising advances in dentistry are making their way through the FDA approval stage at this very moment, and the future of the industry is very bright because of them. Here are three of the most notable:

 

Regenerative dentistry:

Popularly known as stem cell therapy, regenerative medicine is a more holistic approach to health that seeks to overcome injury and disease by repairing and regenerating damaged tissues or organs, rather than using surgery or medication. It’s arguably the fastest-growing and most potentially revolutionary segment of healthcare today, and teeth stand to benefit from this innovation, as well.

For example, instead of resorting to fillings when a tooth has decayed, dentists may soon be able to use electric currents to remineralize caries (or cavities) through a process called electrically accelerated and enhanced remineralization (EAER). One recent study published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine found teeth treated with EAER actually had harder enamel than other nearby teeth.

At the University of Pennsylvania, researchers have completed a promising clinical trial in which children with damaged teeth regained sensation in the teeth through stem cell injections of human deciduous pulp stem cells (hDPSC) extracted from their own healthy baby teeth.

 

Web-connected dental tech:

The so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT), where everyday items are connected to the web and thus enabled to send and receive data, is headed for the once-humble toothbrush. Web-connected brushes will allow patients and their dentists to get real-time information about the state of a person’s mouth, from brushing habits to the pH in saliva to photos that can warn of developing cavities or cracks that require attention.

The same tech could easily be added to mouthguards or other implants for round-the-clock data collection.

 

AI:

The IoT is just one manifestation of the broader convergence of artificial intelligence with the practice of dentistry. In reality, every aspect of the industry that incorporates data can be made more efficient and provide a better patient experience by utilizing machine learning.  

For instance, instead of dentists having to take the time to review bitewing radiographs for caries, AI-based software could be employed that is not subject to human error or variabilities in provider training. The dentist could then use the data generated by the software to aid in the decision-making process as to the best course of treatment.  

In addition, smart scheduling that is tailored to individual patients, instead of a blanket schedule like a visit every six months, and AI-driven web portals for issues like patients’ post-op concerns could streamline dentist offices and ease scheduling burdens.