By Emma Yasinski
As a part of a year-long commemorative series, the Journal of Dentistry recently published an article reviewing a century of progress in one of dentistry’s most important—and at times, controversial—roles: aesthetics.
According to a team of researchers led by Markus B. Blatz, DMD, PhD, chair and professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, while dentists have advanced technologies for tooth-whitening, restoration, and reconstruction over the past hundred years, the most consequential advances in technology, such as 3D imaging and printing, have been made within just the last decade.
The field of aesthetic dentistry has been controversial since its inception in the 1800s. While the scientists write there is a “large body of evidence on the importance of an attractive smile,” critics have often worried about the risk of excessive or unsuccessful treatments, and how they might impact not only the attractiveness, but also the health and happiness of patients. New imaging technologies help mitigate concerns by better approximating outcomes.
Researchers began to establish guidelines for aesthetic dentistry in the 1900s, but to this day, dentists recognize that many aspects of aesthetic dentistry are matters of personal taste or preference and cannot be quantified into specific guidelines that apply to all patients. Differences in desired tooth shape and shades of white are common, and the goal of aesthetic dentistry is not necessarily perfection, but to “replicate and create the variations found in natural beauty.”
New imaging technologies help mitigate concerns by better approximating outcomes. In 1985, the first Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) was introduced in dentistry, and it was able to scan a patient’s mouth and create ceramic restoration within a day.
Even with the introduction of CAD/CAM, guidelines for aesthetic work were generally based on 2-dimensional photographs and measurements until recently. As 3D imaging technology became more popular, clinical studies that used the technology clashed with earlier studies using 2D techniques. But in 2008, “merging 2-dimensional photos with 3D digital models allowed the transition to a completely digital format to verify and develop aesthetic parameters in 3 dimensions,” the authors wrote.
The authors suggest that, moving forward, video may provide some of the most accurate measurements to predict outcomes of aesthetic dental procedures. They look optimistically toward machine learning and virtual reality, which they believe will help patients make the best decisions about their teeth by “trying on” different smiles to decide what looks best match their preferences.
“In the future, machine learning and artificial intelligence will automate most, if not all, aesthetic evaluation, planning, design, and treatment processes to provide customized dental care that is truly patient-centered, natural-looking, and in harmony with facial and other features.”
Author: Contributing writer Emma Yasinski received her Master of Science (MS) in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Her articles have also appeared at TheAtlantic.com, Kaiser Health News, NPR Shots, and Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.
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