FOCUS ON DENTAL CARE: Strobe lights, lasers are new dental tools
The face-or more appropriately, the mouth-of dentistry is changing dramatically.
Overall, people have healthier teeth today due to better home care and early prevention measures.
In Ontario, the average 17-year-old has one decayed tooth, compared with a dozen or more a generation ago, says Ralph Crawford, a dentist and editor of the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association.
This has created a demand for cosmetic dentistry. Since people have healthy teeth, they also want good-looking teeth, says Dr. Crawford.
Dr. Crawford says the greatest advance has been in bonding.
Whereas traditional metal fillings have to be "mechanically locked" into a tooth, bonding uses materials such as plastics which are "stuck to the tooth."
In the process, less of the actual tooth is removed. The bonded filling looks more natural and the end result is a better-looking tooth, he explains.
There are many other cosmetic techniques currently available, including porcelain veneers, crown systems and implants.
Advances have not only come in cosmetic dentistry, but also in equipment and anesthetics.
The days of sliding down into the depths of the chair while the dentist attempts to freeze your gums by giving you a shot from a rather large needle may be over.
Now, instead of the shot, you can put on special glasses and earphones that send your brain into a state of relaxation where it no longer feels pain.
The system is called Brain Wave Synchro-Energizer, or more commonly, "mind flight," says Edward Philips, dentist and vice-president of the Central Toronto Dental Society.
He says the system, which he uses in his downtown Toronto practise, uses computer-driven strobe lights and electronic beeps, picked up by the glasses and the earphones, that are in the same pattern as deep sleep. It works as an anesthetic for the brain.
Also, there is an electronic dental anesthetic which uses small electrodes attached to the gums. The electrodes send off impulses or waves that block pain.
The patient holds the controlling devices. If pain is felt, he or she can increase the intensity of the waves. The technique is commonly known as H-wave.
Dr. Philins says he has had this technique used on him. While he says it is great for basic work, he doubts it would be effective for procedures like deep drilling.
Gum work using lasers may not even require pain medication.
Lasers can cut through the gums faster than the nerves can feel the pain, says Dr. Philips.
Unfortunately, the lasers currently on the market are expensive and few dentists can afford them.
Imagine a computer that can take a pattern of your teeth, design a filling to fit a cavity, and prepare or mill that filling all while you wait in the dentist's chair.
But not all dentists can afford the price tag of $75 ,000 or more that comes with the machine.
Dr. Crawford says this technology, a machine called CAD- CAM (short for computer- assisted design-computer- assisted machining), is in operation at a handful of dentists' offices in Ontario.
The future could see the traditional dentist become extinct.
Dr. Crawford says work is being done to find a vaccine that will prevent tooth decay and gum disease. The vaccine would kill the bacteria that cause the two evils, he explains.
Unfortunately. the vaccine is still years away. So for now, keep visiting your dentist regularly, and open wide.
Dr. Edward Philips of Toronto works on patient Rochelle Litman, who is using the latest in pain control-"mind flight."