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What is New at The Dentist

What couldn’t be done at your last dental visit might be possible when you return to the dentist six months or a year later. Such are the speedy advances taking place in dentistry. So be prepared, not for a lecture from your dentist but for discovering the host of newly available options.

High tech x-rays

Although in the market for several years, they have become popular recently and replace traditional radiographs in some dental offices. They use a sensor instead of a film, which is placed in the patient’s mouth to capture the image. This image is then relayed to a computer where it is available for viewing and storage. The image can be manipulated in a number of ways, by increasing the size and contrast, making it easier to detect the problem in the tooth.

Gone are the days when dentists tackled a light box to show you a cavity which looked like a tiny shadow. You may still have to wear a lead apron and bite down on the sensor, but exposure is greatly minimized; only 10-20% of the exposure you would get from conventional x rays.

On the downside these sensors are thicker and uncomfortable to bite down on and also more expensive.

An even better imaging is on the horizon; the use of digital imaging to detect cavities earlier. The sensors are also improving for the patient to feel more comfortable.

Lasers for tooth cavity detection

Traditionally used was the hook like metal instrument which dentists used to poke around the mouth to detect cavities. A higher tech option for the detection of cavities is the diode laser, which produces a digital readout of the level of bacteria. The dentist then watches the tooth, comparing the levels at the next visit or advises the cavity to be filled. The laser emits fluorescence in relation to the amount of decay, resulting in higher readings on the display.

It doesn’t work in teeth with fillings but it could mean the earlier detection of caries. The other drawback is that it tends to show more false positives, indicating the presence of cavities when there isn’t one.

Pain free “drilling” with lasers

There are different types of lasers, mostly used for soft tissues such as the gums. The ‘waterlase’ works by emitting laser energy into a very fine spray of atomized water capable of cutting a wide range of human tissue, including enamel, bone and cartilage. Anesthesia isn’t necessary, sparing the patient the pain of injection and there’s an extended feeling of numbness afterwards. These lasers are precise and preserve healthy tooth structure. They also prevent cracks being formed on the tooth as what might happen with metal drills. Lasers decontaminate as they cut, reducing the chance for bacterial infection. Lasers are also being used for gum recontouring and periodontal surgery.

Limitations do exist; they can be used only on the top surface of the tooth and areas that can be seen and not inbetween teeth.

Neuromuscular dentistry

A new specialty a and a catchall term for a group of symptoms including jaw pain, limited jaw movement, teeth clenching, popping in the jaw, facial pain and headaches. Neuro muscular dentistry considers the entire system that controls the positioning and function of the jaws- the teeth, muscles and joints and tries to establish a harmonious relationship between them.

The jaw is repositioned using a variety of techniques. Patients are treated with TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) which delivers a mild current enabling the jaw muscles to relax so that the dentist can find the natural bite of the patient. Then the patient is fitted with an orthotic appliance (similar to a retainer) for a few months in order to reposition the bite. Finally preexisting crowns, veneers and implants are reconstructed to keep the jaw in the proper position and maximize cosmetic outcome.

CAD/CAM technology

‘Computer assisted design’ and ‘computer assisted manufacture’ may result in fewer visits to the dentist in case of crowns and bridges. With this technology, the tooth surface is prepared and a picture is taken with a computer. The image is relayed to a machine which makes the crown right in the office.

Though these advances come with a high price tag, they make visits to the dentist quicker, more productive and less painful.

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