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Tooth talk

by Dr. T.J. Scarborough DDS, Complete Dental Care
| February 22, 2021 11:32 AM

This is a great time to be a dental patient. As discussed previously, our knowledge of the connections between mouth diseases and their relationship with other diseases of the body have never been more thoroughly understood. As is often the case in medicine, this has led to additional research and resources being allocated to the further understanding of these relationships. Additionally, resources have been poured into technologies developed to address these conditions and illnesses.

Technology in the field of dentistry and oral medicine have never been greater. It could be said that in the last one to two decades an enlightenment has occurred in this respect. As technology envelopes our world and permeates most aspects of our lives, the same is true for how we approach oral health. In particular, the fields of digital technology and materials science have revolutionized oral medicine.

There is very little that has done more for treating oral disease than digital technology. The use of computers have revolutionized how modern dentistry is performed. Take for example oral radiology (commonly called x-rays). Computed tomography (CAT scan) has become critical in the professional management of oral health. Using this technology, detailed three dimensional images of the teeth, jaws, sinuses, canals, nasal cavities, throat, etc. are created. Using these images, clinicians can identify diseases, lesions, growths, and other problematic findings in clarity unimaginable in times past. Views can be made from an infinite number of angles to identify the size and extent of anomalies, providing much greater detail for diagnosing issues and preparing for surgical procedures. Another advantage of digital x-rays is the drastically lower radiation needed to provide the images. These images are much clearer and much safer than previously possible.

Computer technology has also influenced the way dentistry is performed. One of a dental patient’s least favorite procedures, taking impressions of teeth and jaws, is often no longer needed. Most commonly this is used when crowns, inlays, onlays, or veneers are required. A dentist can take photographs of a person’s teeth directly into a computer. The computer program then allows the dentist to design the restoration in great detail and send it over the air to another computer that will manufacture the restoration. This is accomplished in a single visit where previously multiple visits were required to accomplish the same task. Incredibly, the accuracy of this method can be down to as little as 10 microns, or 1/10 the thickness of a human hair. This is much more precise than the methods of the past, and eliminates many possibilities of human error.

Combining the technologies of 3D imaging, computer aided design and manufacturing, another miracle of modern dentistry becomes possible. Many individuals suffer from tooth loss. Tooth loss can lead to many issues including loss of function, pain, TMJ disorders, emotional and social issues, and additional tooth loss. This has plagued individuals throughout human history. However, this is no longer an end-of-the-road situation when using modern technologies. A clinician can view the toothless areas using the 3D imaging software, plan according to the geometry of the jaws and desired functional requirements, and digitally place a dental implant before ever entering a patients mouth. From this planning, precise surgical aids can be manufactured to guide the surgical instruments to the exact desired position in the jaws for ideal function when the implant process is completed. Thus, a person’s mouth can be restored to its original function, appearance, or other desires of the patient. There are many possibilities that become available through the use of dental implants.

Dental implants are a marvel of modern material science. Typically made of titanium, they allow for the reconstruction of lost teeth, whether it be a single tooth or an entire mouth. Implants are generally about the size of a tooth root. The special surface treatment on the surface triggers the body to grow up to and around the implant creating a very strong junction between bone and implant. Using this platform, a clinician can create any number of combinations of materials, from ceramics, other metal alloys, plastics, composites, etc. to rebuild the shape and function required by the individual to restore their teeth to the desired outcome.

The advancement and development of these additional materials have allowed for increased options, a more natural look and feel, and an overall increase in the quality of results when restoring health to a mouth. From ceramics that mimic the natural shades and light transmission of enamel and offer unparalleled strength, to composites and plastics that allow for conservative interventions early in the processes of breakdown, materials in modern dentistry are a marvel of technology.

The abundance and possibilities of modern dental technology is easy to understate. As one technology becomes established, another breakthrough occurs. Never has there been a more exciting time in dentistry. Understanding the relationship between oral health and the rest of the body, and the technologies, techniques, and materials used to treat and rectify disease and damage is better than ever. As a patient, the results are beyond compare to any time in history.