The future of dental care

Imagine going to the dentist and not having to face the dentist’s drill, being able to stop cavities in their tracks, and even having dental tissue re-grown. Improbable? These procedures could soon be coming to a dentist near you.

Goodbye dentist's drill
Two major studies are looking at making the dentist’s drill a thing of the past.

University of Missouri-Columbia inventors are working on a non-thermal plasma brush that uses a low-temperature chemical reaction to disinfect the area and prepare cavities for filling. The development of the plasma brush could replace painful drilling.

The brush will operate without the heat and vibrations that cause the pain and discomfort associated with the drilling procedure.

Because plasma treatment relies on chemical reactions instead of heat or mechanical interactions, it would be a painless, non-destructive and tissue-saving way in which to care for and treat cavities.

The chemical bonding between teeth and fillings created by the plasma treatments would be stronger than the bonding that dentists currently can administer using drills or laser techniques.

According to the researchers, the brush will also alter the tooth's surface, thereby creating a stronger bond with the filling.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo's School of Dental Medicine have been testing a nasal spray that numbs the upper teeth. This could signify the end of dental injections when dentists perform procedures on the upper arch.

Another study will test the use of ozone to kill bacteria in a decayed tooth. This has the potential to end the need for the dentist’s drill to repair simple cavities.

No more cavities
Cavity prevention could just become easier; researchers have been working on laser technology that can spot troubled teeth before cavities form.

Researchers at Kings College London have been developing technology called "Ramon Spectoroscopy" (RS).

This technology is not new, but it will be the first time it is used to identify the early stages of tooth decay.

The technique the researchers are working on will be able to tell the difference between healthy enamel and decaying enamel.

Researchers say that this new method of cavity prevention may be available for practical use in five years' time.

By focusing RS optical fibres on individual teeth, the researchers were able to track the unique light pattern emanating from chemical compositions in healthy or decaying enamel. This process could spot tooth decay at an earlier stage than the current screening methods which are based on visual exams and x-rays.

Early detection might mean cavity prevention, but not repair. Sites of decay could be rematerialised using medicinal mouthwash and fluoride varnishes. These would prevent the development of full-blown cavities and eliminate the likelihood of dental cavities.

However, researchers say that it doesn't mean the dentist's drill would disappear entirely. In its current form the screening procedure would be expensive and time-consuming.

Ultrasound re-grows dental tissue
Researchers at the University of Alberta have created new technology using low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) that stimulates jaw growth and dental tissue healing.

The small ultrasound machine gently massages gums and stimulates growth from the root. It is inserted into a person's mouth, mounted on braces or on a removable plastic crown.

Researchers plan to use the device to fix fractured or diseased teeth and asymmetric jawbones. It may also help in treating patients whose teeth have been knocked out. The device can also stimulate jawbone growth to fix a crooked smile.

Lasers blaze in dentistry
Lasers have been used in dentistry since 1994.

Dentists have been using laser technology for a number of general dental procedures such as diagnosing cavities, removing gum and tooth structure to treat diseases, helping to harden restorative materials, and enhancing teeth-whitening procedures.

Lasers deliver energy in the form of light. When used in procedures that require surgery, the laser acts as a cutting instrument or a vaporiser of the with which it comes into contact. When used to set a filling, the laser helps to strengthen the bond between the filling and the tooth.

Lasers cause less pain and reduce the need for anaesthesia, they reduce patient anxiety, minimise bleeding and swelling during soft tissue treatment, and preserve a healthy tooth during cavity removal.

Laser use has some disadvantages: it can't be used on teeth that already have fillings, to fill cavities located between teeth, or around old fillings and large cavities, and it can't be used to remove defective fillings or prepare teeth for bridges. In addition laser treatment is also expensive.

However, researchers and dentists are positive that laser technology shows promise for future use in dentistry.

Sedation dentistry a cure for dental phobia
No one likes going to the dentist, but for some people the thought of visiting the dentist is a truly frightening prospect.

Many people avoid regular dental treatment because of dental phobia. This results in the neglect of oral health care.

In sedation dentistry medications are used to help the patient feel relaxed and sleepy during a dental procedure. This is known as conscious sedation.

The most common sedation methods used are: inhaled sedation which involves breathing in a mixture of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and oxygen, and oral sedation which involves taking medication by mouth.

Another sedation method used is intravenous (IV) sedation which is done by dentists who are trained in IV sedation. The advantage of IV sedation is that the level of sedation can be adjusted as necessary.

During conscious sedation you breathe on your own, you'll still be awake and be able to talk to your dentist. The dentist will be able to perform more than one dental procedure during your visit. these could include teeth whitening, the replacing of dental crowns or dentures, repairing damaged teeth and treating gum disease.

Not all dentists are trained in sedation dentistry and it is important to do research about dentists offering the service. If you are going to opt for this type of dentistry speak to your dentist about all the risks involved.

- (Leandra Engelbrecht)

- Dentist Researchers test no-needle anaesthesia, no drilling cavity care. ScienceDaily 22 January 2002.
- An End to dental drilling. Health24. 14 September 2007.
- End in sight for dreaded dentist drill. ScienceDaily. 23 July 2008.
- Lazer technology spots cavities before they start. HealthDay News. 22 August 2008.
- Ramon spectroscopy could end need for dental fillings. MedicalNews Today. 22 July 2008.
- Laser technology prevents cavities. Health24. 25 August 2008.
- Novel ultrasound system can re-grow dental tissue. American Dental Association.
- Ultrasound may help re-grow teeth. June 2006.
- Smile! A new Canadian tool can re-grow teeth say inventor.
- Lasers blaze new trail in dentistry. ScienceDaily. 22 October 2003.
- Dental health: Laser use in dentistry.
- Sedation dentistry – painless dental treatment.
- Sedation dentistry: Relief for dental anxiety?
- Oral sedation dentistry.

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