Smart toothbrushes to help enhance prevention, augmented reality to help train dental students, teledentistry to deliver care to more people and 3D printers to enhance the patient experience, dramatically cutting the number of visits required to fit prosthetics, for example. The dental industry can be among the first movers to embrace and achieve business growth with these emerging technologies.
Dentistry is a rapidly evolving industry, with advancing technology making significant enhancements to the patient experience. From smart toothbrushes to 3D printing, the dentistry world is going places, and it's important that dentists in Ireland are aware of the advancements they can make with their own practices. This article explains some of the new technologies dentists can utilise to ensure they can offer their patients the best possible experience.
Introducing the Smart Toothbrush
Let's start with one of the more tangible technologies – the smart toothbrush. Pretty much everything you can buy nowadays is "smart"– smart phones, smart watches, smart houses. Smart toothbrushes have entered the technology playing field and they are proving to have many benefits. Sensors in the head of the toothbrush send information on brushing habits to an app on the user's phone. The smart toothbrush records brushing times, how long different areas of the mouth are brushed, how much pressure is applied, and what angle the brush is held at. The smart toothbrush teaches users how to fully optimise their plaque control and oral health.
Teledentistry & its Benefits
Teledentistry is defined as "the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a dental patient's clinical health status". The patient outcomes of teledentistry are similar to those of visiting a dental office and teledentistry can increase access to care and practice revenue streams by profitable outreach to the community, without the need for more chairs.
There are several teledentistry solutions out there but the main aim is to connect dental patients to powerful imaging and professional expertise at the point of care. Easy visual screenings can be used to support preventive oral health care and emergency dental issues can be prioritised.
Teledentistry allows dentists to see patients and advise them on care requirements, regardless of their location, and without the dentist having to leave their office. Research shows that patients seen via teledentistry are more likely to come in for treatment. Dentists and hygienists can obtain and share diagnostic images, videos and documentation, allowing a remote evaluation and a recommendation for the next steps to take. Key benefits of teledentistry include:
- Provision of profitable, convenient outreach to the community
- Conversion of teledentistry evaluations into in-office treatments
- Attract new patients without taking up valuable chair time or resources
- Increased revenue streams for dentists and hygienists
- Useful, no transport oral evaluations
Improvements in 3D Printing
3D printing has already made it's mark on the dental world, particularly in the lab where its helped to improve model making, wax ups and surgical guides. Advancements in 3D printing are drastically changing what dentists can do in terms of cost, speed and accuracy.
For starters, there's Continuous Liquid Interface Production, a proprietary 3D printing technology owned by Carbon. This method of 3D printing is engineered to be around 100 times faster than current 3D printing speeds, and has the added benefit of looking like a science fiction film.
In the manufacturing sector, printable ceramics have been available for several years. While right now the materials aren't biocompatible, it doesn't take much imagination to understand how this technology could eventually lead to printable teeth that require a simple finish and polish before insertion. Additional materials could be used to print "gingiva" with the final goal of dentures that are completely 3D printed.
Virtual Reality in Dentistry
Virtual reality training has the potential to revolutionise how dental professionals are educated, both at college and in continuing education courses. Instead of watching a PowerPoint presentation and a speaker at a lectern, clinicians could use VR systems to truly go "hands-on" under the instruction of an expert as they learn how to work with the latest dental solutions in a virtual world. Hygienists and other members of the dental team could use VR training to hone their skills and experiment with different ergonomic techniques without the presence of a real patient. It provides a virtual laboratory for any dental professional to test out the latest technology and techniques.
And, of course, patients could eventually use VR to completely escape the dentist's surgery during any procedure. Virtual reality is completely immersive, and can help distract even the most nervous of dental patients.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already a reality in many fields, and will likely impact dentistry in the coming years.
With the advent of digital dentistry, dental offices now collect a significant amount of data – from 3D images, to patient files, to EHR, to intraoral scans and so on. That data is helpful in the day-to-day job of the clinician and the dental team, but it's even more useful in the virtual "hands" of AI. A system that was built to learn and develop its own intelligence can scan, analyse and make sense of the massive amounts of data. It can then suggest treatment options, predict problems and issues before they happen, and ensure any planned medication or procedures won't interfere with other health concerns, and much more.
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