The complex devices all around us — from long-range satellite links in our cars and offices to powerful computers in our hand-held gadgets — prove beyond a doubt that we live in a technology-driven world. In the field of dentistry, new technology is constantly changing the way diseases are diagnosed, routine procedures are performed, and illnesses are prevented. Although they may seem unfamiliar at first, new and improved dental technologies offer plenty of real benefits for patients. Here's a look at some of the latest examples, coming soon to (or now appearing at) a dental office near you.
- Dental Implants. Tooth replacement took a giant leap forward with the widespread use of dental implants — today's preferred method of replacing teeth. Dental implants are small titanium posts that replace the root part of your missing tooth. A realistic dental crown is then attached to the implant for a replacement tooth that looks and feels exactly like what nature gave you.
- Digital X-Rays. Diagnostic x-rays have long been invaluable to dentistry. The emergence of digital technology in the past decade, however, has made dental x-rays safer and even more useful. Digital technology cuts radiation exposure to patients by as much as 90% over traditional x-rays. And there are other advantages including the elimination of waiting time for pictures to develop, and sharper images that can be enhanced instantly to show detail.
- Intra-Oral Camera. A picture is worth… plenty, when it comes to helping you understand your dental examination, diagnosis and treatment! With these tiny cameras, you can see what the dentist sees, on a small chair-side monitor. The images of your teeth can be saved as stills or video — or even printed out — so you can see exactly what's happening in your mouth.
It's almost impossible to imagine the practice of dentistry without x-ray technology. Radiographs (x-ray pictures) allow dentists to diagnose and treat problems not yet visible to the naked eye, including early tooth decay, gum disease, abscesses and abnormal growths. There is no question that since x-rays first became available a century ago, this diagnostic tool has prevented untold suffering and saved countless teeth. Now, state-of-the-art digital x-rays have made the technology even safer and more beneficial.
Digital x-ray technology uses a small electronic sensor placed in the mouth to capture an image, which can be called up instantly on a computer screen. When digital x-rays first became available about 20 years ago, they immediately offered a host of advantages over traditional x-ray films, which require chemical processing. Most importantly, they cut the amount of radiation exposure to the dental patient by as much as 90%. While faster x-ray films have been developed over the years that require less exposure, making that difference less dramatic, a digital x-ray still offers the lowest radiation dose possible.
Advantages of Digital X-Rays
Besides minimizing radiation exposure, digital x-rays offer numerous advantages to dentists and patients alike. These include:
- No chemical processing & no waiting. Because there is no film to process with digital x-rays, there is no waiting for pictures to develop — and no toxic chemicals to dispose of. Your dentist can immediately show you the pictures on a computer screen for easy viewing.
- A clearer picture. It's possible to get more information from digital x-rays because they are sharper and can be enhanced in a number of ways. The contrast can be increased or decreased, and areas of concern can be magnified. It's even possible to compare them on-screen to your previous x-rays, making even the minutest changes to your tooth structure easier to detect.
- Easy sharing and storage. Digital x-rays provide a better visual aide for you, the patient, to understand your diagnosis and treatment options. They can be e-mailed to different locations; they are also far less likely to be misplaced.
X-Rays and Your Safety
While digital technology has minimized the health risks of x-rays, it has not entirely eliminated it. X-rays are a type of radiation used to penetrate the tissues of the body to create an image. In doing so, there is always a slight possibility of causing changes at the cellular level that might lead to future disease. Of course, there are sources of radiation present in the daily environment — the sun, for example — that can also cause disease. It's important to note that the chance of this happening is thought to be cumulative and not based on a single exposure. Still, x-rays are not considered risk-free regardless of how technology reduces your exposure. That's why dentists will only use them when the benefit of obtaining better diagnostic information outweighs the procedure's small risk. This is particularly true of computed tomography or CT scans, which can raise the level of exposure, yet yield a tremendous amount of information per scan. No matter which technology is being used, each case is considered individually, and your safety is always paramount. If you have questions about why an x-ray is being recommended for you, please feel free to ask.
The intra-oral camera is a valuable tool dental professionals can use to help you understand your examination, diagnosis and treatment. This small, handheld video camera is about the same size as a dental mirror (or an oversized pen) and comes with a disposable plastic sheath for contamination prevention. It is used to take actual pictures of your teeth with up to 25 times magnification and project them onto a screen for your review. It can also be used to give you a video tour of your entire mouth so that you can see things such as plaque deposits, decay, worn teeth, and broken or missing fillings. Lastly, pertinent images can be printed for your patient file for future reference — or even for you to take home.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
This adage is proven true many times each day in offices equipped with an intra-oral camera. Prior to the development of this technology, some patients found it challenging to understand problems such as dental decay and periodontal disease. Now, it's possible to display, pause, and zoom in during a video examination of the problem area, so that you can see it for yourself — all in color and crystal clear.
Advantages of an Intra-Oral Camera
- An intra-oral camera makes you more of an active partner in your dental treatment, enabling you to see what a dentist sees — an especially important benefit when additional treatments need to be discussed, or when treatment options must be explained — so that you can make informed decisions.
- You may be more comfortable asking questions and better able to understand a treatment option or oral hygiene concern when you can actually see it.
- Because it gives you the real-world picture of your dental hygiene, the intra-oral camera is ideally suited to show you techniques for improving your oral health and hygiene habits.
- With its powerful magnification (much superior to the naked eye), it reveals the early stages of maladies such as gum disease and cavities.
- The images can be captured and reexamined later, to show you changes in your oral health and hygiene or how a multi-phase treatment is progressing.
- Furthermore, it can provide insurance companies with the proof they require to approve a needed treatment.