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    The future of dental practices

    Experts say the field of dentistry is shifting and new advancements will accompany the change. What will your dental practice look like five years from today?

     

    Because digital scanners capture only what’s in the line of sight, traditional impression materials are a better option for the situations he describes. 

    That’s all going to change in the next few years, thanks to multi-wavelength scanners. “Imagine having, in essence, a cone beam scan able to be used as a digital scanner that is able to take photos and create a 3D model of our patients,” Dr. Gray says. “We will be able to peel off the layers in images, starting with the skin and going down to the densest object, say teeth, from a single pass around the body.” 

    With the multi-wavelength scanner, clinicians will be able to visualize where the margin is underneath obstructions. 

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    The technology will be revolutionary, says Dr. Gray. “We’re not just going to use these to look at stuff like gross changes, say tooth eruption pattern or jaw development,” Dr. Gray explains. “We’re going to be able to use these also to look at decay interproximally and, yes, we’re at the point where we can look at lateral canals. Imagine being able to have this single scan to be accurate enough to properly perform endodontic treatment or use it for implant placement or [to] determine how large a fracture is, all on top of a real human face that’s in three dimensions.” 

    Having the accurate imaging systems sets the practice up well for what’s coming next: insane amounts of data and the new technologies that will not only be able to read said data but make diagnoses as well. 

    “I think the coolest thing that’s going to be available in the next year is a number of different software [options] that are out there that are able to look at minor changes in the oral cavity that occur over a long period of time,” Dr. Gray says. 

    If a patient breaks a tooth playing football, they can take a picture of their tooth with their phone and send the image straight to their dentist, who can then line the image up with the image on file to determine how much tooth structure was broken. “That was really cool when we first got it and started using it,” Dr. Gray remembers. 

    But he soon discovered a much bigger potential: the ability to track things he couldn’t see on a regular basis, such as recession. Trying to remember the condition of the patient’s gums at the last visit and taking a guess is not a scientific procedure. The question became: What if you could superimpose images of the patient’s mouth? 

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    The answer, Dr. Gray says, is improved accuracy. “The accuracy of this is around a half of a tenth of a millimeter—.061 I think right now—so that when we’re looking at changes in the mouth, we can literally measure and say when their gums are receding and diagnose why that may be,” he notes. “I see that [this] type of technology is going to play a huge role in us being able to have data.” 

    “There are lots of different imaging things that are out there today, and lots of data that we’re getting, but no one in dentistry is really mining that data from a diagnostics standpoint,” Dr. Kachalia says. “People mine business metric numbers, but there’s nothing today that takes all the data you have, whether from cone beam CT or caries detection or intraoral imaging, and puts that together to extrapolate a differential diagnosis.”  

     

    Next: Will dentistry get it's own version of IBM's Watson?

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