Advances in Dental Care: What’s New at the Dentist

Are you behind on your dental visits, and now you’re being driven in by a toothache, other dental problems, or guilt?

If so, be prepared -- not for a lecture from your dentist -- but for discovering that there is a host of new options to keep teeth healthy and beautiful.

Here are some of the newer dental care procedures and techniques that leading dentists are bringing into their practices.

Improving Dental Health: How High-Tech X-Rays Can Help

In some dental offices, digitized X-rays (think digital camera) are replacing traditional radiographs. Although digital X-rays have been on the market for several years, they have recently become more popular with dentists.

Digital X-rays are faster and more efficient than traditional radiographs. First, an electronic sensor or phosphor plate (instead of film) is placed in the patient’s mouth to capture the image. The digital image is then relayed or scanned to a computer, where it is available for viewing. The procedure is much faster than processing conventional film.

Your dentist can also store digital images on the computer and compare them with previous or future images to see how your dental health is being maintained.

And because the sensor and phosphor plates are more sensitive to X-rays than film is, the radiation dose is significantly reduced.

Digital X-rays have many uses besides finding cavities. They also help look at the bone below the teeth to determine if the bone level of support is good. Dentists can use the X-rays to check the placement of an implant -- a titanium screw-like device that is inserted into the jawbone so that an artificial tooth can be attached.

Digital X-rays also help endodontists -- dentists who specialize in root canals -- to see if they have thoroughly cleaned the canal during the procedure.

Lasers for Tooth Cavity Detection

Traditionally, dentists use an instrument they call the "explorer" to find cavities. That's the instrument they poke around with in your mouth during a checkup. When it "sticks" in a tooth, they look closer to see if they find decay.

Many dentists are now switching to the diode laser, a higher-tech option for detecting and removing cavities. The laser can be used to determine if there is decay in the tooth. The dentist can then choose to watch the tooth, comparing the levels at the next visit, or advise that the cavity be removed and the tooth filled.

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When healthy teeth are exposed to the wavelength of the diode laser, they don't glow or fluoresce, so the reading on the digital display is low. But decayed teeth glow in proportion to the amount of decay, resulting in higher readings on the display.

The diode laser doesn’t always work with teeth that already have fillings, but for other teeth, it could mean earlier detection of cavities. Note also that the diode laser does not replace X-rays; it detects decay in grooves on the chewing surface, while bitewing X-rays can find decay between and inside teeth.

Faster Dental Care: CAD/CAM Technology

The CAD in this technology stands for “computer-assisted design,” and the CAM for “computer-assisted manufacture.” Together, they translate into fewer dental visits to complete procedures such as crowns and bridges.

Traditionally when a patient needs a crown, a dentist must make a mold 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.

Thinner Veneers Preserve More Tooth

Veneers are the thin, custom-made shells or moldings that are used to cover the front of crooked or otherwise unattractive teeth. New materials now make it possible to create even thinner veneers that are just as strong.

What’s the advantage for you? Preparing a tooth for a veneer - which involves reshaping the tooth to allow for the added thickness of the veneer -- can be minimal with the thinner veneers. Less of the tooth surface must be reduced and more of the natural tooth is kept intact.

Better Bonding and Filling Materials

If you've chipped a tooth, you can have it fixed to look more natural than it would have in the past, thanks to improvements in bonding material and bonding techniques.

Today's bonding material is a resin (plastic), which is shinier and longer lasting than the substance used in the past. Often, dentists will put layers of resin on a tooth to bond and repair it. Because of the wider range of shades available, they can better blend the bonding material to the tooth’s natural color.

In restorations, when a cavity needs to be filled, many dentists have also abandoned amalgams for "tooth-colored" composite or porcelain fillings, which look more natural.

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Better Dental Implants

Implants to replace lost teeth are now more common than in years past. First, a titanium implant or screw-like device is inserted to serve as a replacement root, fusing with the jawbone and protruding above the gum line. An abutment covers the protruding part and a crown is placed over that.

In the past, implants often failed. Now, the typical life of an implant is about 15 years or longer. About 95% of implants today are successful, according to the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

New Gum Disease Treatments for Better Dental Health

When the supporting tissue and bone around your teeth doesn't fit snugly, "pockets" form in the gums. Bacteria then invade these pockets, increasing bone destruction and tooth loss.

A variety of treatments can help reverse the damage. They range from cleaning the root surfaces to remove plaque and tartar to more extreme measures such as gum surgery to reduce the pockets.

In recent years, the focus of gum disease treatment has expanded beyond reducing the pockets and removing the bacteria to include regenerative procedures. For instance, membranes, bone grafts, or proteins that stimulate tissue growth can be used to help regenerate bone and tissue to combat the gum disease.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on June 04, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Bader, J. Journal of the American Dental Association, Oct. 1, 2004.

Bader, J. Journal of the American Dental Association, Nov. 1, 2006.

Richard Price, DMD, dentist, Newton, Mass.; spokesperson, American Dental Association.

Hugh Flax, DDS, dentist, Atlanta; vice vice-president, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Michael R. Sesemann, DDS, dentist, Omaha, Neb; president, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Mickey Bernstein, DDS, dentist, Germantown, Tenn.; past president, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

American Dental Association.

WebMD: "Dental X-Rays."

American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

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