By Nancy Wulz
With 2021 and adjustments to a “new normal” well underway, there will be changes – particularly in the world of dentistry.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, dental clinics worldwide were forced to shut down, leaving many dentists with no practice and no livelihood. As restrictions are continuing to lift and appointments return to the books, the new year is ushering in new opportunities.
Technology has been one of the most prominent factors in the growth of modern-day dentistry with a constant cycle of new and emerging technologies. It has enabled dental practitioners to minimize pain, risk, and post-procedure issues with greater precision and less discomfort for the patient. Technological advances have also helped to reduce anxiety and fear for adults and children alike.
The Future of Dentistry is Digital
There are a few must-have technologies that should be present in all dental clinics. While not all of them are brand new, the latest applications of these technologies in the world of dentistry will make them indispensable.
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Dentists today already utilize software to capture insights in clinical decision-making. These practices will continue to develop to integrate AI algorithms that enable clinicians to find the best modalities for their patients.
A 2019 study reported that the exponential rise in health data and the maturing of healthcare AI would thrust dental medicine into a new stage of digitization. These smart algorithms can be integrated within the healthcare system to analyze health data, research findings, and treatment techniques to provide diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations for patients.
The accumulation of health data, particularly genomic data, can help shed light on each individual's system for personalized care. Having access to such information can quickly bring to light the best treatment options and probabilities of success to the clinicians.
AI-based algorithms can also help specialists better treat dental conditions. In 2019, researchers developed a machine learning method to quantify immune cells surrounding oral cancer cells accurately. This sheds better light on the spread of and resistance to cancer, as well as helping to determine the chances of survival. Others are using neural networks to detect dental decay and periodontal disease from radiographs better. Such approaches can become standard practice in the near future.
2. Intraoral Scanner
In dentistry, photographs are a critical part of a patient’s dental history. Intraoral scanners eliminate gag-inducing impressions that accompany biting into a tray filled with gel.
An intraoral device is quick and painless used to scan the patient’s mouth and create a digital impression. It can assist when it comes to Invisalign or any restorative dental needs. It shows patients how their teeth will look after Invisalign, braces, or whatever restorative dental procedure you may be having. This dental technology will hopefully become the gold standard leading to enhanced patient experiences and dental results.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary genome-editing method that could become the ultimate cancer-fighting weapon or, more controversially, help design babies in the future. It is a programmable protein that can edit, eliminate, and turn on/off genes. Although it is still in its nascency and its full potential remains to be seen, dentistry will also benefit from the technology.
Researchers are conducting studies to isolate and switch off oral cancer-associated genes. They are using CRISPR technology to alter the functioning of bacteria responsible for plaque formation. The two most pervasive dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal disease, could see a significant reduction and possible elimination through CRISPR technology.
If researchers successfully create a CRISPR treatment that prevents biofilm formation, the resulting drop in dental caries and periodontal disease development would be unparalleled.
4. 3D Printers to Create Dentures
In the 21st century, digital radiographs and 3D imaging have become the standard of dental care. Using an intraoral scanner with digitized data for 3D dental impressions (vs. polyvinyl siloxane and rubber base impressions) for a dental crown is now commonplace.
Adjusting tooth alignment and creating crowns and veneers can be expensive. Dentists now use 3D printing to reduce the cost of making dentures and crowns. Furthermore, creating 3D dentures requires less time than using impressions.
Historically, dental practices sent dental impressions to laboratories to design and build dentures for patients. With 3D printers, creating dentures is done in-house. This process is a significant benefit for small practices that may not afford third-party assistance for creating dentures. Another perk is patients can receive their dentures on the same day because of how quickly dentures develop with 3D printing.
5. Robotic Surgery
Artificial intelligence is laying the groundwork for the future of the dental industry. Dental robots can now perform functions such as filling cavities and cleaning or extracting teeth.
In dentistry, robotics can enhance accuracy, precision, workflows, and even patient results. Dental robots can now perform functions such as filling cavities and cleaning or extracting teeth. While patients enjoy great success rates with dental implants, there are inherent risks as with all surgeries. Nerve damage and implant failure can occur. However, robotics and navigational surgery technology can improve the success rates and guide the oral surgeon during the implant procedure with enhanced precision and consistency.
We've discussed xenobots, living robots made from organic material, and nano-bots capable of obliterating dental plaque in other articles.
6. Regenerative Dentistry
Regenerative dentistry challenges the preconceived notion that our teeth will fall out with age or damage and need to be replaced by prostheses. Developments in this field can lead to self-healing teeth and biological therapy for damaged teeth.
University of Nottingham and Harvard University researchers developed dental fillings that enable teeth to heal themselves. These fillings stimulate stem cells that promote the growth of dentin. This means patients can effectively regrow teeth damaged through dental disease and potentially eliminate the need for root canals.
The role of technology in a dental practice is to assist dental professionals in providing the best level of care currently available to their patients. Utilizing the latest IT and technology solutions doesn’t always mean a complete overall of your practice or committing to a large investment. There are technology companies that can help make these decisions and assist in the installation and learning of the latest technology available for your dental practice.
Author: Nancy Wulz is a freelance marketing professional with 10+ years of agency experience working with marketing teams to create and execute digital content strategy.