The Future of Dentistry is 'Amazing'

Carestream Dental asked a number of experts for their opinions on what the big trends in oral health care will be in 2017. Larry Emmott, D.D.S., weighed in:

“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future”

So said Yogi Berra, and he is right. On the other hand Bill Gates had this to say:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

Looking ahead to 2017, we could make predictions that are sure to come true. However they would be so obvious as to be useless. We could make bold outlandish predictions that are exciting but unlikely to come true next year. Any dentist looking to plan ahead would be disappointed. The best alternative is to point out trends and predict how those trends will impact dentistry in the coming years.

Smart Phone Diagnostics: We are rapidly approaching the “Tricorder” from the early days of Star Trek. The Tricorder was a diagnostic device that Dr. McCoy (Bones) simply aimed at a patient and the device would give the doctor a diagnosis. Amazing new digital sensors are available now that can record and analyze a patient’s physiology; and more are coming. What is even more amazing is that many or even most of these devices are designed to work using a standard smartphone.

Three examples:

  • Lab on a chip. Several developers have introduced credit card sized devices that attach to a smartphone and in minutes can analyze a drop of blood for an array of diseases, including HIV. Lab on a chip is much faster and much less expensive than traditional lab tests and can be used anywhere anytime. Future dentists could put a drop of blood from a perio pocket or a bit of plaque on a chip for an instant diagnosis that is better and more accurate than anything we are doing now.

  • Breathalyzer. Smartphone breathalyzers are available right now to detect blood alcohol levels. If a device can detect blood alcohol it must be able to detect ketones in a diabetic or the distinct chemicals found in “perio breath”.

  • Ultrasound. Physicians already have several smartphone ultrasound devices to choose from. An ultrasound device detects differences in tissue density. Like the difference in enamel and bone or the difference in gingiva and gingival pocket. Even the difference in healthy dentin and carious dentin. Dentists have not used ultrasound in the past, but we could.

3D: 3D technology has gone mainstream. Inexpensive consumer-level 3D printers are already a thing and they are just getting better and less expensive.

Earlier this year, a dentist in Brazil used a smart phone based 3D application to create an amazing facial prosthesis for a cancer patient who had lost a significant portion of his face.

Much of dentistry is a highly customized fabrication process. Dentists make very specific unique custom made items such as crowns, bridges, dentures or orthodontic appliances. Dentists have adapted traditional manufacturing processes in order to do this. These adapted traditional processes are based on old technology. Some of them really old, like lost wax casting which has been around for 5000 years or so.

3D digital fabrication will replace all the old methods. A great example is clear aligner technology.  Clear aligner manufacturers use 3D digital models to create a very specific set of orthodontic appliances with no need for impression material, plaster models or bent wires. Soon CAD/CAM, 3D printing and laser guided cutters will replace the rest of our old techniques.

These rapidly evolving systems will not only replace our current fabrication methods, but will revolutionize them as we substitute biologic materials for metal and plastic. The future tooth replacement will not be an acrylic tooth resting on a metal frame, but it will be an organic tooth printed from cells laid on a collagen framework.

A final prediction which is guaranteed to come true: The future is coming and it will be amazing!

Larry Emmott, D.D.S. Contributor


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