Tooth Tech: How 4 New Technologies Are Changing Dental Care

November 18, 2016

If dental visits give you the willies, here’s reassuring news! Advancing technology has launched breakthroughs in professional oral care. Here are four new developments sure to coax a sigh of relief.

1. Cavity Detection

To identify decay, dentists commonly rely on X-rays, visual inspection, and manual probing. However, these procedures often miss small cavities and decay beneath tooth surfaces. Over the last five years, laser technology has gained favor as a cavity detecting tool.

Laser’s effectiveness is due to a phenomenon called fluorescence. This is the illumination of decay by light beams. Specific wavelengths of light cause decayed tooth surfaces to glow. The newest laser to diagnose cavities is the Canary System. The technology pairs laser with an oral camera, finding cavities too tiny to register on X-rays.

To use the Canary System, a dentist places the laser on a tooth. The device scans its surfaces, generating a reading in five to seven seconds. The number displays on a computer screen, on a scale of 0 to 100. Speakers hooked up to a computer announce the readout.

A “Canary Number” from 0 to 20 registers a green color on a tooth graphic, indicating a healthy status. A number from 21 to 69 is yellow, signaling some structural loss. Advanced decay is flagged in red, with numbers between 70 and 100.

While the laser scans, the camera in the hand piece takes pictures of tooth surfaces. The system also generates a report that a dentist can review with you chair-side. The Canary Cloud stores the report, accessible via the Internet.

Canary is highly accurate. Its sensitivity is rated 92 percent, considerably better than the 67 percent of bitewing radiography.

2. Cavity Treatment

For young children diagnosed with cavities, there’s a pain-free alternative to drilling. In July 2016, The New York Times announced a new cavity-fighting treatment. Silver diamine fluoride is an antimicrobial liquid that’s brushed on cavities, halting tooth decay. The product is sold as Advantage Arrest.

Approved by the FDA, silver diamine fluoride has traditionally been used to reduce tooth sensitivity. Although Japan has employed the cavity treatment for decades, the US adopted it for this purpose in 2015.

Advantage Arrest both identifies decay and stops it. It also kills bacteria. Just one drop can treat five teeth, eliminating the need for drilling. Usually, two applications are required, in spaced visits.

The product has one flaw. The liquid leaves a black stain over an area of decay. For this reason, Advantage Arrest is most suited to baby teeth or hidden molars. The treatment is praised by pediatric dentists since it spares children the trauma of drilling. It also saves toddlers with severe decay a hospital treatment with general anesthesia.

Advantage Arrest is becoming popular at nursing homes. Residents develop cavities when oral hygiene suffers neglect. Onsite dental care may not be feasible, and transport to dental facilities can be difficult. Advantage Arrest resolves this challenge.

Although most insurers don’t yet cover the cost, the treatment is affordable. For example, a cavity costing $150 to drill can be painted for $25, roughly one-sixth the customary expense. In time, insurance reimbursement is expected to increase. In January 2016, the American Dental Association provided an insurance code for the procedure.

3. Periodontal Care

According to Millennium Dental Technologies, 85 percent of US adults have gum disease. Treatment involves eliminating infection and closing tissue pockets. For moderate to severe gum disease, surgery is required.

The standard protocol calls for tissue cutting, root cleaning, bone shaping, and suturing. Post-op, people often experience tooth pain and sensitivity to hot, cold, spices, and liquids. Teeth become more vulnerable to cavities since their roots have been exposed.

In April 2016, the FDA endorsed an alternative to conventional periodontal surgery. LANAP both treats gum disease and promotes tissue regeneration. It’s also less painful and invasive, enabling faster recovery.

The LANAP procedure employs the PerioLase MVP-7 laser. The device destroys bacteria using a specific wavelength of light. Rather than being removed, gum tissue is preserved and restored. The laser is selective, targeting only infected tissue and killing 99.9 percent of disease-causing germs.

To perform LANAP, a dentist inserts a thin fiber into an infected tissue pocket. An ultrasonic root cleaner replaces traditional scraping tools, removing hard deposits called tartar. Now the laser performs its magic! Its warmth activates stem cells, creating a sticky film that seals gum tissue. The gel protects against germs, enabling the disinfected pocket to heal. Stem cells continue the process of regeneration, forming connective tissue and bone.

4. Root Canal

A root canal saves the loss of a severely decayed or infected tooth. The process involves removing the pulp, the living component of a tooth, containing the nerves and blood vessels supplying it. Once the pulp is extracted, its chamber is cleaned with a file and sealed. A temporary filling protects the root against infection until a permanent filling or crown can be applied.

Traditionally, obtaining a root canal has involved dental surgery and more than one trip to the dentist. Now, advanced techniques provide painless treatment in one visit.

Modern medications make it easier to numb teeth, eliminating pain. Hand pieces have high-torque motors, making them faster and stronger. This upgrade enables dentists to better control instruments and shape the root canal. Ultrasonic instruments have also been introduced, generating vibrations to clean roots.

Apex locators identify root tips so the entire canal can be cleaned and filled. If a root tip isn’t located, some bacteria can remain. Electronic apex locators guide a dentist to the apex, using measurements and sound waves.

Broken stainless steel files carried the hazard of leaving some bacteria behind. Nickel titanium has replaced stainless steel, making files more flexible and less prone to breakage.

As an alternative to hand files and drills, a laser has several advantages. It eliminates infection, reduces post-op pain, and speeds healing time. Waterlase is the newest type of laser used for root canals.

5. Fillings

In September 2016, Science Daily announced preliminary findings on a new dental filling. A researcher at London’s Queen Mary University has developed a bioactive glass composite. This material has a unique ability to release the fluoride, calcium, and phosphate needed to remineralize enamel.

While traditional fillings contain inert materials, bioactive glass prompts the human body to replace minerals lost to tooth decay. The composite serves a dual purpose. First, it repairs enamel by sealing holes. Secondly, it creates an alkaline environment that prevents bacteria from multiplying.

Bioactive glass will potentially last longer than conventional fillings. In the future, it may completely replace amalgam, a filling composed of tin, copper, silver, and mercury. Bioactive glass is a cosmetically pleasing white color. It also lacks the controversy regarding the safety of mercury present in amalgam fillings.

6. Implants

An October 2016 article in the Journal of Oral Implantology describes a new surgical technique. A dental implant typically involves attaching filler tissue to gums before the implant is placed. Tissue is sourced from another section of a person’s mouth, a procedure involving pain.

Now, with the VBIF technique, researchers have found a way to add tissue with less pain and expense. VBIF skillfully closes soft tissue around an implant, improving its appearance and reducing the risk of disease. After the procedure, gum tissue feels more comfortable.

Two cases have shown successful outcomes. To be determined is the amount of tissue required to keep the area around an implant healthy.

If you routinely procrastinate or shun dental visits, you can now put dread to bed. Frequent check-ups are key. Fluorescent devices and oral cameras detect small cavities before they’re symptomatic. Advantage Arrest spares children and seniors from drilling. LANAP cures gum disease and minimizes the discomfort of periodontal treatment. Modern instruments and techniques make root canal efficient and painless. In the future, should you need fillings, bioactive glass will spare you mercury exposure. If your dentist recommends implants, you can expect an easy procedure using VBIF technique.

A professional at a clinic like Oral Surgery Associates Inc can advise how often to obtain preventative care or answer questions about any treatments you might need. Early detection and treatment shorten your time in the dental chair. Your reward is a radiant smile!

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