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 favourite sweets and instructs you to brush your teeth regularly.
Many dental practices are adopting digital technologies to improve their business. This has led to the development of dental softwares that automate both administrative and clinical functions.
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.
Authors of a 2019 study write that with the exponential rise in health data and the maturing of healthcare A.I., dental medicine is entering a new stage of its digitisation. Such smart algorithms can be integrated within the healthcare system to analyse health data, research findings and treatment techniques to offer diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations for individual patients.
The future is here! The availability of DNA test is on the rise, and it will continue to grow in the coming years. The popularity of these tests can be explained by two key factors. Firstly, they are less expensive than ever before. Secondly, there are more companies that offer this kind of service.
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.
The Kolibree smart electric toothbrush makes sure 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. Philips’ Sonicare smart 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.
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 visualise a calming landscape while seated at the dreaded dentist’s chair to improve their experience.
If you are reluctant to go to the dentist, imagine how hard it is for children, patients with special needs or elderly in nursing homes. Another issue is distance: people living in rural areas rarely get access to a dentist, and almost never have the possibility of choice. This can change significantly with the spread of teledentistry.
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.
Computer-assisted design (CAD) and computer-assisted manufacture (CAM), including 3D-printing, are already revolutionising the sector; they are turning them into low-cost, more effective digital labs. Traditionally, when a patient needs a crown, a dentist must make a mould of the tooth and fashion a temporary crown, then wait for the dental laboratory to make a permanent one.
With CAD/CAM technology, the tooth is drilled to prepare it for the crown and a picture is taken with a computer. This image is then relayed to a machine that makes the crown right in the office. With a 3D printer doing the hard work, dental labs eliminate the bottleneck of manual modelling and let the business grow. Stratasys, Envisiontech or FormLabs offer such high-tech solutions for 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 labour 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.
MouthWatch, Dürrdental and Carestream Dental are some of the many companies to have launched intra-oral cameras on the market. 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
We’ve come to expect to have our teeth fall off with age or with damage and have them replaced by prostheses. However, 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 at Karolinska Institutet in 2020 can fasten development in the field of regenerative medicine. They 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.
So what could CRISPR achieve in dentistry? Well quite a lot, in fact. Chinese 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 endeavour 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!
The bright future of dental medicine
It is amazing how more and more disruptive innovations will be at our disposal – either for improving oral health as a patient or upgrading our practice as a professional. Our task at The Medical Futurist is to follow the latest innovations and keep pace with the growing possibilities in healthcare.