Three-dimensional X-rays, diagnostic lasers that identify tooth decay, 3D printing for crowns—it all sounds like the wave of the far, far future in dental care, right?
But dentistry is evolving rapidly, giving dentists new technology and tools for treating patients of all ages. Whether they are providing routine care, giving a smile makeover, or addressing specialized needs, dentists have innovative methods and materials at the ready to make patients’ teeth healthy and beautiful.
Not only do these tools help dentists get better views of patients’ mouths and create extremely precise dental restorations, they often mean reduced time in the dental chair and better results.
“The good thing about dentistry is that new technology comes all the time,” says Dr. Atif Rizvi of Dentistry by Design in Minnetonka. “Every day you see something new and different, and it’s great when you apply it to patients and they see a difference.”
Here are some of the latest developments helping dentists dazzle patients’ smiles.
Dentists have been taking X-rays for years, but they provide a limited picture. Dr. Melissa Zettler of Cherrywood Dental Care in Savage now uses cone beam X-rays to get 3D views of patients’ mouths. It helps her diagnose infections, more accurately plan for procedures like dental implants, and see wisdom teeth and their roots in exquisite detail before removing them. “You’re able to look at the tooth three-dimensionally and see all around it,” says Zettler. “You can find all sorts of things you couldn’t find before.”
Similarly, Dr. Kim Ledermann, a dentist who treats disorders of the head and neck at Minnesota Craniofacial Center in St. Paul, uses cone beam CT technology to create 3D images. The images offer more detailed views of abnormalities of the bones, soft tissues, airway, and skull than traditional images, helping Ledermann diagnose and treat issues ranging from headaches to sleep apnea.
Having a cavity filled rarely makes it onto “favorite things” lists. These days, many dentists try silver diamine fluoride before getting out their drills. Painted on a tooth, it eliminates cavities in a less invasive manner.
“It can go in and kill bacteria and halt its progress,” says Dr. Jim Nickman, a senior partner at Metropolitan Pediatric Dental Associates. “Combined with fluoride, it reinforces the tooth, allowing it to repair itself and delaying the need for treatment. If it’s a smaller cavity, it might eliminate it altogether.”
Nickman also uses resin infiltration to restore teeth without drilling. People often get decalcified areas after braces. Dentists remove the weakened enamel or cavity and fill it with resin, cure it, polish it, and return the tooth to its original health.
Many dentists use computer-aided design for crowns and other dental work. Now some are adopting 3D printing to create extremely precise restorations for patients. Rizvi recently started making porcelain crowns, veneers, and implants with 3D printing. Patients love that dentists barely need to do anything to their mouths before placing a restoration.
“The technology works really well and the product is phenomenal,” Rizvi says. “We get the perfect product in a short time, and the results are remarkable.”
Diagnosing with Lasers
To find dental problems, dentists traditionally use a mirror and explorer tool to examine the mouth and teeth. Now higher-tech tools are bolstering dentists’ detective efforts. Dr. David A. Cook of Smiles at France in Minneapolis uses a diagnostic laser and transillumination device to light up a tooth. It helps him better see decay or fractures. “The fiber optic light makes it easier to see and tells me what areas to pay more attention to,” Cook says.
People who want to whiten their teeth pick from over-the-counter products, custom trays, or in-office treatments. Dr. Amy Hughes of Glen Lake Family Dentistry in Minnetonka is excited about an option that falls in the middle.
Made by Opalescence, the Go line provides pre-filled, disposable trays that patients wear for 30-60 minutes for 10 days. No need for impressions or wearing trays all night. “It’s better than popular over-the-counter products because it covers more of the teeth and has a desensitizer,” she adds. And for $70, it is more affordable than $250 custom trays.
Disorders of the temporomandibular joint—where the jaw and skull connect—cause clicking and popping, migraines, and facial, neck, and ear pain. It’s no picnic. Many dentists prescribe oral appliances and physical therapy for relief.
Ledermann favors a newer treatment called prolotherapy, where she injects areas near the jaw with a local anesthetic and dextrose. This prompts the body to start healing itself, regenerating the joint and strengthening the nearby tendons and ligaments. It provides significant relief to people with chronic jaw pain, Ledermann says.
Dentist visits of the future will likely include some of these technologies, all on your dentists’ quest to keep your smile as healthy as possible.