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Game-Changer Digital Dentistry

Beam-me-up lasers, digital decay finders reshape the trip to the dentist.

By Dr. Michael Katsaros

Digital, no-goop impressions. Computer-designed invisible braces. Computer-guided implant placements. Transillumination decay finders. Prophy-jet tooth polishing. 3-D Digital X-Rays. Diode lasers. Never before has a cadre of tools done more to raise the bar as high in the dental office. And never in such a non-invasive, pain-free way!

In a downtown as fast-paced as Washington, time-deprived patients seek high level care in the shortest amount of time. They need the best service. They need it now.

“I need a new smile as soon as possible, because I’m being transferred to Paris next month,” is a common request among our patients. The good news is that with today’s fast-paced innovations, patients can expect fast results without giving up quality, accuracy or comfort.  From a dentist’s point of view, this is a golden time in dental technology. And for patients, they get to have their decay found earlier, their gum lines reshaped painlessly and their smiles renewed with greater precision.

But, the real game-changer is not only tech-based.

It’s the power of technology converging with the intuitive, artistic, diagnostic skill of the dentist.  Once technology and skill join forces, that’s when the magic happens.

So, how can you know if you’re getting the most advanced care for your smile? Here is a list of nine technologies to look for at your dental office. And, in case you find it as fascinating as I do, I’ll even explain how they work!

Seeing more to get your mouth in working order with 3-D Cone Beam X-Rays. Far superior than traditional X-Rays, 3-D technology not only views what’s going on with your teeth, but provides a robust picture of your entire mouth, face and neck. This three dimensional imaging improves diagnosis and prevents guesswork, treating many conditions, from problems with bone health to the most accurate implant placement. All you have to do is relax while the digital X-Ray takes the 3-D images that are much more efficient and quick. Unlike one-dimensional pictures of regular X-Rays, this no-film digital image gets the whole picture. The scanner moves around your head, logging all of the needed data. Once all of the data is collected, we can focus on whatever needs attention. No mess, no fuss, no pain!

Fighting early-stage cavities with Diagnodent laser light. In the past, a dentist looking for cavities had only a pointy “explorer instrument” to probe the surface of the tooth for “soft” areas that might mean a cavity lurks there—a highly subjective approach. Enter Diagnodent! The point of its pen-like laser-probe, placed on the surface of the tooth, detects decay through the outer layer of enamel.

In a few seconds, a number appears on the screen, showing the beginning of decay, before it even affects the tooth! Finding decay at the earliest possible moment, the dentist quickly “zaps” it away with a painless laser and seals it off with a liquid, tooth-colored filling. In a few seconds, the filling hardens under a special light.

This technology preserves as much tooth structure as possible. It means we no longer allow dots of decay to advance into large craters. Instead of drilling a traditional cavity, we simply remove the surface decay, and seal the tooth to preserve the tooth forever! The smaller the filling, the more natural your teeth. The less chance of problems in the future. Mother Nature does it best.  

Decay has no-where-to-hide when the “CariVu” transillumination device is on the case.  We love this sleek, safe, infrared light. It miraculously lights up healthy tooth structure, but not decay. Decay does not allow light to pass through, so it shows up as an easy-to-see dark area.

The CariVu wand accurately reveals decay, especially decay that lurks in difficult to detect areas—between teeth. My ability to “look inside” the tooth and see decay in this way—X-ray- vision without X-ray!—means patients get a much more accurate diagnostic experience. Not to mention there is no discomfort, no radiation. The image looks similar in appearance to an X-Ray, but it more accurately verifies the health of a tooth.

Diode Laser means gentler fillings without shots! This newer generation of lasers handles dental fillings, preparing teeth ahead of restorations like inlays, onlays and crowns, as well as transforming “gummy smiles.” A digital workhorse, this small power-packed laser is especially effective in re-contouring the gum line with no bleeding or stitches. Best of all, it makes procedures virtually pain-free, reducing procedure time,  with reduced side effects and much quicker healing. A lot gets done in a short amount of time—all with greater accuracy!

Digital molds offer faster, precise, no-mess impressions. Say “good-bye” to those messy and uncomfortable, goopy impressions. Say “hello” to iTero Digital Impressions that produce a supremely accurate digital impression to fit the teeth with crowns, bridges and veneers.  

An iTero intra-oral wand moves around your mouth and captures images of your teeth. Recording nearby teeth, as well as opposing teeth, it also covers how the teeth bite together. The images are projected on a chairside screen that both you and your dentist can view. It’s quick, simple and pain-free. The image is transmitted electronically to a lab to use by lab techs who make crowns, veneers, bridges, inlays and onlays. The result: Crowns fit better when the impression is an accurate copy of the mouth.

Pain, pain, go away—with water-based, “Waterlase” Laser. This light-weight laser instrument minimizes the need for drills and numbing, which means doing away with dreaded needles. This powerful laser is used in many ways, from preparation for cavities, crown impressions, root canal and protective sealants, to re-shaping bone and gum tissue. 

The “Waterlase” uses laser energy and air that propel water to precisely target teeth and gums. And since there is no pressure, heat or vibration, there is less trauma, bleeding and swelling. The result is often fewer dental visits, since more work can get done in one visit. 

Amped-up clear braces. Computerized and doing their job in less time than ever! Computer software has brought us custom-designed Invisalign® clear braces that have in many cases sidelined the old-fashioned metal braces system. The removable invisible aligner trays that can be removed for eating and cleaning, are an adult-friendly way to straighten teeth. Patients receive a new set of aligners every 2-3 weeks until teeth have moved into the desired position—often within one year. 

Invisalign® Patients who want to re-align teeth even faster, opt for AcceleDent® Aura. It speeds up tooth movement—by up to 50 percent.  This pain-free, hands-free appliance, gets inserted into the mouth 20 minutes a day. The SoftPulse Technology’s™ precisely-calibrated “micropulses” allow teeth to move more quickly, even while reading, watching television, listening to music, or doing school work. Cutting the treatment time in half is a huge change in how long it takes to straighten a smile!

Hygiene cleanings to blast away stains! Get me the take-no-prisoners PROPHY-JET! Everyone loves that super-fresh feeling after a professional dental cleaning, but sometimes the teeth are not as fresh looking as they feel. Now, the Prophy-Jet offers a high-tech stain-removing alternative to traditional polishing, spraying high-pressured water and baking soda particles to scour off soft deposits, dental plaque and surface tooth stains caused by food, drinks or smoking. In cases where stains come from inside the tooth, caused by genetics or trauma, we usually turn to cosmetic procedures, such as veneers.

If you are like many of our patients, you’ll want to put the world of digital dentistry to work for you.

Dr. Michael Katsaros, practices general and cosmetic dentistry at Washington Center for Dentistry, 1430 K Street NW, Washington, DC. www.washdent.com  202-223-6630 [email protected]

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*Invisalign®, the Invisalign logo, and iTero®, among others, are trademarks and/or service marks of Align Technology, Inc. or one of its subsidiaries or affiliated companies and may be registered in the U.S. and/or other countries.