What Does The Future Hold for Dental Hygiene? Mind-Blowing Tech and More
Dental technology has come a long way over the last few decades. Technicians and dental labs are producing stronger and more esthetic materials; dentists are utilizing more advanced tools and practices, and patients are benefiting from cheaper, stronger, and more comfortable prosthetics.
Those technological advancements are showing no sign of slowing down, and if current research is anything to go by, the next few decades could be very exciting in the oral care industry.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most exciting technologies and developments to see what lies ahead for the future of dentures, dentistry, and dental hygiene.
3D Printing and Computer-Aided Design
Computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing are already being utilized by the dental industry. They’re simplifying the design and manufacturing process and creating dentures and crowns that fit better, last longer, and are produced quickly and cheaply.
Cosmetic dentistry is an exact science. Molds need to be taken, prosthetics need to be meticulously fashioned, and technicians are required to finish everything by hand. It’s long and painstaking, and it’s one of the reasons why prosthetics are so expensive.
But CAD and 3D printing is changing all of that, creating a streamlined process that benefits everyone involved. The lab can reduce its workload. The dentist can produce something cheaply, and the patient doesn’t need to wait for several weeks.
Pictures and molds are taken as needed, information is sent to the printer, and the 3D printer does all of the hard work. It guarantees a product that is tailormade for the patient’s unique oral anatomy and it greatly reduces the workflow.
The introduction of 3D printing helps to eliminate manufacturing errors and reduce the amount of labor required for each prosthetic.
It’s something that has been implemented by most dental labs in some form or another, and while the technology still has its limitations, that will change in time. It should become cheaper, easier, and more widely available, leading to a situation in which dentures can be made in a few hours, as opposed to a few weeks or days.
Eventually, the costs will also come down, which means that consumers will get better and faster dentures for a much lower price. After all, if the cost of production falls and the process is streamlined, it means that dental labs will spend less money and time on every set of dentures that they create, allowing them to pass those savings onto the dentists and patients.
Typically, streamlined manufacturing processes sacrifice quality for convenience. A hand-made piece of furniture is always going to be better than something bought from IKEA; a tailored suit will last longer than something bought off-the-rack. But it’s unlikely that we’ll see the same thing happen here.
We’re not talking about cheap materials and a high-speed production line. We’re talking about a program that maps the patient’s mouth to the smallest detail and creates a flawless prosthetic based on their anatomy and their preferences.
It’s truly a technology that everyone in the chain will benefit from, and that’s why so many dentists and dental labs are excited about the possibilities provided by 3D printing.
One of the biggest frustrations faced by dentists is when the patient can’t open their mouth all of the way. It doesn’t matter how much poking and prodding they do, if the patient can’t or won’t open their mouth, or their anatomy doesn’t allow for easy viewing, their job will be much harder.
That’s where the intra-oral camera comes in.
This small and lightweight tool is already being produced by a handful of manufacturers and is being used by practitioners across the United States. It provides a clear HD video of the patient’s mouth and can also snap pictures to add to the patient’s file.
Not only is it easier to see more of the patient’s mouth, but by adding crystal-clear images to their file, they have a reference point to help them at a later date.
It helps with prosthetic design and can also detect issues that may be missed with traditional dental mirrors.
It’s less intrusive for the patient, as well. If they struggle to open their mouths wide, the dentist will need to get stuck in, which means there is going to be a lot of uncomfortable pressing and pushing. Considering that individuals who struggle to open their mouths are usually young children, people with medical conditions, or very anxious patients, it’s best to avoid anything that can cause more pain or discomfort.
Machine learning is changing the way that we diagnose and treat diseases. It could also be used in the field of dentistry, with the ultimate goal being to reduce the rates of periodontal disease, oral cancer, and tooth loss.
Machine learning works by feeding real-life data into an algorithm and waiting for it to “learn” certain patterns, which it can then use to make predictions and recommendations.
For instance, if you take the dental files of 10,000 people aged between 20 and 30 and provide information relating to diet, location, and smoking status, before providing a follow up 30 years later, the algorithm can learn what foods and lifestyle choices are more likely to cause certain oral health problems.
The more data it has, the more accurate these recommendations will be.
In time, your dentist will be able to perform a checkup, ask you simple questions about your dental hygiene (Do you floss? How often do you brush? What sort of toothpaste do you use?) and then produce a prognosis.
It could tell you how likely you are to suffer from certain oral diseases and what steps you can take to reduce your risk. Based on these recommendations, your dentist could take some precautionary steps, such as prescribing fluoride toothpaste or extracting a tooth.
You could learn about the steps needed to reduce your risk of decay and tooth loss, potentially eliminating the need for dentures at a later point in your life. And if you already wear dentures, this technology could focus more on gum health and general oral health.
Machine learning technology is already being used in professions that are moving toward automation, including recruitment. By studying the CVs of successful employees, for instance, it can scan all applicants to determine which ones are better suited for a specific role.
It is also being used in healthcare as a diagnostic tool. After all, while many of us have adopted the belief that diseases like cancer and heart disease are down to sheer bad fortune, there are many environmental, dietary, and genetic factors involved.
Your risk of lung cancer increases if you live with smokers or near busy roads. Your risk of heart disease increases if you consume a lot of red meat and eat very little fiber. We know all of these things, but because there are so many variables at play (for instance, your water consumption, tea/coffee preferences, career, and whether you have pets can also increase/decrease your risks) it’s hard for a doctor to make the right recommendations.
Machine learning has the power to process all of that data, arrive at viable conclusions, and make suggestions that could prolong your life and keep you healthier for longer.
Smart Dentures and Teledentistry
Every aspect of our home lives is controlled by smart technology. You can make phone calls and check messages on your wristwatch. You can ask Alexa/Google what the weather is like, use your fridge to reorder milk, and control the thermostat, doorbell, and lights from your smartphone.
It’s fair to assume that the same technology will find its way into our dental hygiene routines. In fact, some toothbrushes have already begun using computer chips to tell consumers when they are brushing too hard.
In the future, we might see similar chips being installed in dentures to check when they are being cleaned incorrectly, used improperly, or need to be repaired. This information could be fed to your smartphone and even checked by your dentist.
The idea that your dentist can keep real-time tabs on your health has also become a reality in the last couple of years.
Telehealth was a hot topic in 2018 and 2019, and after the events of 2020, it was pushed forward several years and given a stage on which it could shine.
Simply put, telehealth is healthcare provided through telecommunication services, including video conferencing software, phone calls, and tracking technology.
For example, there are pill dispensers that unlock at certain times of the day and dispense specific amounts of medication so that patients with memory problems don’t take too much. They can also sound alarms so that they don’t forget to take them.
The information can then be relayed to a caregiver and/or a doctor. If the patient is displaying symptoms of fatigue during their next appointment, the doctor can check to make sure they were taking their medications during this time.
That’s not all, either, as these services provide an array of time-saving and even life-saving benefits for both caregivers and doctors, including:
- Care For Patients in Rural Areas: There are millions of people in the developed world who don’t have easy access to medical clinics, either because they are immobile, live too far away, or suffer from psychological conditions such as agoraphobia. It can be difficult for them to get the care that they need, but with telehealth, they are always a simple video call away. Everyone can get care when they need it and if medical intervention is required, transportation or home visitations can be arranged.
- Daily Monitoring: One of the problems with healthcare is that problems aren’t always present when the patient is sitting in front of the doctor. They might appear at certain times of the day or completely at random, only for there to be no sign of them when the patient attends their appointment. Telehealth offers a solution by allowing doctors to connect their patients with health-monitoring devices, including heart-rate sensors, blood monitors, and ECGs. All of the data can be monitored in real-time and stored so that it can be viewed at a later date.
- Elimination of Unnecessary Appointments: A sizeable number of doctor’s appointments result in a brief exchange that could have taken place over the phone. The patient wants advice or reassurance from the doctor, but in doing so, they’re taking up valuable time and necessitating a trip that could have been avoided with a simple video call. Telehealth appointments will save time and money for everyone involved.
- Controlling Infectious Disease: Recent developments have shown us just how important it is for telehealth systems to be implemented in major metropolitan centers across the United States. It means that patients can get adequate care and attention without exposing them to infectious diseases. If a patient has symptoms of an infection, they may book an appointment, show up for that appointment, and infect everyone in the waiting room, only for the doctor to tell them to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. With telehealth, they’ll get that advice from the comfort of their own home, which means they won’t be in the waiting room contracting or spreading illnesses.
Of course, oral health problems aren’t as easy to diagnose via a webcam and telehealth has its limitations in this field, but it can still serve a purpose and provide benefits for both the patient and the dentist.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
Augmented reality is already being used by dental students to help them learn about essential dental procedures. There are simulators that combine AR technology with mannequins to let students practice their skills and get feedback afterward.
It could also give patients some insights into upcoming dental work, allowing them to see how it will look before it goes in their mouth. The dentist can then adjust the height and spacing accordingly while making changes to the color.
Virtual reality is also being used by dental students and patients. For the former, it’s a great way of practicing without requiring a real patient. The technology has improved to the point where it recognizes even the smallest of hand and head movements and the graphics are also advanced enough to simulate the human mouth and teeth.
As for patients, virtual reality can help individuals who suffer from severe anxiety. It means that they don’t need to fill themselves with drugs and deal with the side effects and after-effects. The VR can transport them to a calming environment.
It’s not just a theory, either, as VR has been used in dentistry for several years now. In 2016, VR-recorded surgery was performed in London, and it has also been suggested that dentists could use VR to see things from the perspective of their patients, thus showing them things from the other side and potentially making them more considerate and empathetic practitioners.
Fillings have been used for hundreds of years and while the materials have changed a lot in that time, the process has remained the same. The dentist cleans the area, removes any damage and decay, and then fills the tooth with a composite material.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s the best that we can do. For now.
Scientists are currently working on regenerative fillings that help the tooth to regrow. It’s not quite on the level seen in science fiction, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be regrowing full teeth directly in the mouth anytime soon, but these fillings could help to restore some of the lost dentin.
Not only is it a potential solution for fillings and root canals, but it could also help individuals with very sensitive teeth. After all, sensitive teeth are caused by minor cracks and damage in the teeth, and if we’re able to regrow this, it’ll make life more bearable for millions of people around the world.
Who knows, many years or decades in the future, there may be no need for dentures at all. And before then, the dentures that you wear could be made from real teeth generated from your own cells.
A couple of years ago, it was reported that human teeth could now be grown in a lab using stem cells. Again, it seems a little too much like a Sci-Fi film to be real and, in a way, it is. After all, while it’s true, we’re still several years from reaching a point where this could be done quickly and easily enough to be viable.
Once we reach that point, it might take several more years before it’s cheap enough to replicate the process on a grand scale, at which point your dentures could be made from the real thing!
In many ways, it takes us back to the dentures worn by rich people during the 17th and 18th centuries, when dentures were made from real teeth and were strung together with metal. The difference is that those teeth were extracted from corpses whereas future ones could be made using your own cells.