A Unit of Praxis360.
One of the most common childhood fears is going to the dentist. Who would not relate? Sitting in a huge chair illuminated by blinding light; enduring lengthy seated sessions with someone looking and poking inside your mouth using edgy and frightening devices. And finally, when the torture is over, that same someone tells you not to eat your favorite sweets and instructs you to brush your teeth regularly.
Latest technologies from virtual reality through artificial intelligence (A.I.) to CRISPR will revolutionize dentistry and our whole attitude towards oral health in the future.
Can you imagine that you might get your 3D-printed prosthesis in an hour instead of 4-5 sessions at the dentist? How about having a tele dentist consultation? Or being able to grow new teeth at the age of 80?
Let’s see how these can be the case in the future thanks to the following 9 technologies.
1. Artificial intelligence
Already, dentists employ software to get insights in clinical decision making. These will develop further to integrate A.I. algorithms to enable clinicians to find the best modalities for their patients.
Such smart algorithms can be integrated within the healthcare system to analyses health data, research findings and treatment techniques to offer diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations for individual patients. With A.I. tools having access to such information, they can instantly offer the best treatment options and probabilities of success to the clinicians to identify dental conditions.
Researchers in 2019 developed a machine learning method to accurately quantify immune cells in the vicinity of oral cancer cells. This gives better insights into the spread of and resistance to cancer; thereby helping in determining chances of survival. Others are using neural networks to better detect dental decay and periodontal disease from radiographs. Such approaches can become standard practice in the near future.
2. Smart toothbrush
Our home will be filled with connected, smart devices in the future, so why would our bathroom be an exception. At first, it might feel a bit strange to let a sensor into one of your most intimate activities, tooth brushing, but it makes a lot easier to maintain oral hygiene and prevent plaque or cavities.
Electric toothbrush makes sure that you are brushing your teeth the right way through its app and offers kids fun games to keep up the good habit of regularly cleaning their teeth. Some electric toothbrush comes packed with sensors in its handle. These provide real-time feedback via a companion app warning you if you are applying too much pressure, where you are brushing and even coaches the user as to how to brush properly. And there are several such devices on the market from companies like Colgate and Oral-B.
3. Augmented Reality
You might be familiar with Augmented Reality (AR) through social media apps; it’s the same technology that Snapchat uses to superimpose filters on your face during your guilt trip selfie with a dog face filter. But AR also found a home in dentistry for both educational and clinical purposes.
In dental practice, the technology is more prevalent in reconstructive and aesthetic procedures in order to help patients know what they will look like after the treatment. Some of the brands have developed such AR apps that use their phone or tablet’s camera to overlay virtual depictions of the improved set of teeth prior to the procedure. This allows patients and dentists to configure features of their teeth such as height and spacing to their liking before they even enter the surgery room.
4. Virtual Reality
Not to be confused with AR, Virtual Reality (VR) completely closes off the outside world with a dedicated headset and immerses the user in a virtual environment. By slipping such a headset on their head, students and aspiring dental surgeons can be transported to the OR from their couch; while patients can visualize a calming landscape while seated at the dreaded dentist’s chair to improve their experience.
Today, only a few students can peek over the shoulder of the surgeon during an operation and it is challenging to learn the tricks of the trade like that. With a virtual reality camera, surgeons can stream operations globally and allow medical students to actually be there in the OR using their VR goggles.
On the patient side, VR might be the solution to our dentist’s office anxiety. An experiment with 69 participants showed that VR can be used as an effective distraction tool in dentistry.
5. Tele dentistry
Tele dentistry services offered by some companies that provide easier access to oral and dental care; are significantly cheaper for patients; shift towards cheaper prevention practices; and allow patients to consult with otherwise unavailable medical professionals. For instance, this service offers an all-in-one tele dentistry platform allowing patients to capture images, send relevant information to a dentist remotely and do a live consult. The dentist might start a video chat with the patient and the caregiver so that the medical professional can actually see and talk to the patient, build rapport, help connect them and bring them into the office (if necessary).
As remote care’s importance swelled during the pandemic, tele dentistry is also picking up steam and authorities are responding accordingly. The American Dental Association issued a policy on tele dentistry that offers guidance on the modalities that such services can follow. This sets the pace in making tele dentistry a general practice.
6. Computer-assisted design and 3D-printing
3D-printing does not need any introduction considering the buzz it generated in healthcare a while ago with the technology’s potential to print medicines, prosthetics and even organ replicas. Its importance was further highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis to bypass supply chains to meet hospitals’ demands. As the technology is set to become an integral part of healthcare practice, it will also become incorporated in dental labs.
3D printers are also able to produce orthodontic models, surgical guides, aligners, retainers and more dental equipment faster and precisely; tasks that would take longer with traditional methods. This helps in improving workflows, reducing error and the amount of labor needed, which ultimately endows the technology with time and cost-efficiency.
7. Intra-oral camera
One of the greatest inconveniences while being seated in the dentists’ chair is that sometimes, no matter how wide you open your mouth, the dentist still cannot see what they would like to see, even by using the trusty dental mirror. Such situations are not only uncomfortable for both the patient and the doctor, but also painful. However, the advent of intra-oral cameras can remedy this exact problem.
The latter promises revolutionary cameras, which are real “patient conversation starters.” The cameras’ unique liquid lens technology works like the human eye to ensure effortless image capture to deliver clear, detailed images patients can really understand.
8. Regenerative dentistry
The field of regenerative dentistry challenges this preconceived idea with developments that can lead to self-healing teeth and biological therapy for damaged teeth.
Previously, researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University developed dental fillings that allow teeth to heal themselves. These fillings stimulate stem cells to promote the growth of dentin, or the main constituent of our teeth. This effectively enables patients to regrow teeth damaged through dental disease and potentially eliminate the need for root canals!
New discoveries from researchers were able to map the differentiation pathways of the cells that make up human teeth. They also discovered new cell types and cell layers in teeth that can impact on tooth sensitivity.
Isn’t it exciting to think that you might not need to have false teeth to replace your own when you are old, but you might grow new ones? The tooth-fairy will be very excited, for sure!
CRISPR is a ground-breaking genome editing method offered by Mother Nature herself, but researchers have discovered its immense potential only recently. As explored in our dedicated articles, it might become the ultimate weapon against cancer or, more controversially, help design babies in the future. And the field of dentistry will also benefit from the technology as well.
Researchers are conducting studies with the technology to isolate and switch off oral cancer-associated genes. Other researchers are using CRISPR to alter the functioning of bacteria responsible for plaque formation. Their endeavor could even lead to the reduction or outright prevention of dental caries and periodontal disease. But please don’t give up on brushing your teeth just yet!