It's one the most common human fears and phobias of all, particularly for those of us beyond our 20s, as we remember the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of going to the dentist in our childhood. The big needle. The high-pitched whirr and jarring vibration of the dentist's drill. The scent of antiseptic and freshly-ground cavities. Those vivid memories may trigger high anxiety and a great reluctance to return to the dentist for much-needed care. But anyone who has visited the dentist in more recent years has been pleasantly greeted by an ever-expanding array of technologies and techniques designed to make the dental experience far less fearful and far more effective. Pain-free injections. High-precision tools that barely make a sound. Digital imaging that creates instant x-rays and high-definition templates for making crowns. Even lasers that treat cavities without drills or anesthesia. Those technologies have made modern-day dentistry less well, like pulling teeth and more like what it should be: an easy-to-tolerate, even welcomed part of your overall health maintenance routine. Here's just a sampling of what you'll likely find at the dentist nowadays: The Wand: One of the greatest sources of dental dread in the past was the large needle used to inject anesthesia. Most of today's dentists are using a gentle, computer-assisted device called the Wand for delivering anesthesia. Held by the dentist like a pen, the Wand slowly administers anesthesia in computer-calibrated amounts through a small needle at the tip. Many patients say they don't even feel the injection. Digital x-rays: Remember those visits when your cheeks were stuffed with that film-strip apparatus used to take x-rays of your teeth? One section at time, you'd sit there mouth agape, draped in a lead blanket as the technician stepped out to throw the switch on huge camera aimed at your face. Today, those x-rays are captured instantly and comfortably with a hand-held sensor that processes the image onto a nearby computer screen. Radiation exposure is one-10th of what it was with the old method. Digital impressions: You know that goop that made you gag when they took an impression of your teeth for a crown or other dental restoration? Well, it has been all but replaced by digital technology. A hand-held device fitted with a camera goes gently into the mouth and is used to capture extraordinarily high definition images of your original tooth. Those super 3D images become the template for creating exact-fit crowns, bridges and other tooth replacements. Electric hand pieces: The often scary sounds and sensations associated with air-driven drills — the loud whine and the whirring vibrations — also are fading away. Following the lead of their European and Asian counterparts, U.S. dentists increasingly are using electric hand pieces, which are faster and more precise. They have a truer spin, a steady torque and don't slow down, stall or stop when the head of the device is applied to the tooth. They're also a lot quieter, almost inaudible when a dental air-vacuum tool also is being used. Dental lasers: Another fast-evolving technology used in dentistry, lasers are being used for both soft-tissue and hard-tooth procedures. In some instances, they are used to prepare cavities for fillings without the use of anesthesia, as the lasers have a numbing effect themselves. Lasers are able to narrowly target the areas of the tooth structure needing treatment and also remove decay with microscopic precision. Though they haven't replaced other time-proven dental technologies, lasers are an emerging trend. Regular dental care is an important part, not only of your oral health, but of your overall health throughout your life. That's one of the reasons why we're forever embracing new technologies and seeking ways to make the dental experience better for everyone. via Charles Nemser, DDS for Bennington Banner
Dental technology has improved the way dentists practice their craft. Thanks to science, modern techniques allow patients to receive dental treatments without the pain and time associated with old-fashioned dentistry. Dental technology is even being developed to make dental X-rays safer and more convenient. While dental X-rays emit low amounts of radiation and every precaution is taken to protect patients from exposure, some dental patients may still put off dental X-rays for safety reasons. Dental X-rays bring up other issues for patients, including the wait time for film to be developed and environmental concerns. Dentists are addressing these issues with digital radiography, a high-tech replacement for traditional dental X-rays. How Does Digital Imaging Work? The physical process for digital radiography is actually similar to traditional dental X-rays that use film: With digital radiography, your dentist inserts a sensor into your mouth to capture images of your teeth -- but that's where the similarities between conventional and digital dental X-rays end. Although it resembles the film used for bitewings and other X-rays, the digital sensor is electronic and connected to a computer. Once the X-ray is taken, the image is projected on a screen for your dentist to view. There are several benefits to using digital radiography over traditional film X-rays: Less Radiation: The equipment used in digital radiography exposes dental patients to much less radiation. In fact, digital X-rays use up to 90 percent less radiation than film X-rays. While conventional dental X-rays are relatively safe, digital radiography is an excellent option for those who take X-rays on a regular basis or for those who are concerned about radiation. Shorter Dental Appointments: Digital radiography can also shorten your dental appointment! With traditional dental X-rays, you'll have to wait while your dentist develops the film. With digital radiography, the sensor develops the picture almost instantly and projects it onto a computer screen right before your eyes. Higher Quality Images: The standard size of traditional X-rays can make viewing difficult, but digital radiography has done away with the "one size fits all" mentality. Once on the screen, digital X-rays can be enlarged or magnified for a better visual of the tooth's structure. Brightness, contrast and color can also be adjusted, allowing your dentist to see small cavities easier. If you need a hard copy of your X-ray, digital images can also be printed out. Transferring Dental Records: Digital images can be e-mailed to a digital specialist for immediate review. Digital X-rays are taking away the expense and time needed to copy files and mail them to another dentist, making it easier to transfer dental records or get a second opinion. As more offices are turning to electronic patient charts, computers may eliminate the need to mail dental records altogether. Environmentally Friendly: Digital dental X-rays are better for the environment! With digital radiography, no chemicals are used to develop film. There's also no wasted space of a darkroom and no need to store film, which can pile up in a dentist's files. The Complete Picture While digital radiography is helping many dentists diagnose your dental problems, additional software programs are making their lives even easier! One such program is called subtraction radiography, wherein dentists compare current images to previous images of the same tooth, helping them find even the smallest changes in your tooth's structure. Digital radiography is slowly gaining steam in the professional dental community. With the expense of digital radiography equipment, digital X-rays are an investment that the majority of our dental practices have yet to make. No matter what type of X-rays you choose, dental X-rays are important part of your regular dental visits. Dental X-rays are necessary to help diagnose problems not visible to the naked eye. If you're concerned about radiation, talk to your dentist about your X-ray options.