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    The true science fiction of future dentistry

    Exploring the future of cutting-edge technology and what it will mean for the dental industry.

    Not since the development of composites in the 1960s and the introduction of CAD/CAM in the 1980s has there been such an exciting time of innovation in dentistry. Researchers, manufacturers, scientists and practitioners are welcoming new and emerging technologies, from 3D printing and self-healing teeth to non-chemical disinfectants and digital scanning — all of which have the potential to transform in meaningful ways how dentistry is practiced.

    Call it the true science fiction of future dentistry. These new technologies are the wave of the future. They will not only change the way dentistry is performed and how dental practices are operated day to day but will dramatically improve outcomes for patients.

    “These new technologies are all about how to best interact with and treat the patient,” says Dr. Lou Shuman, founder and CEO of Cellerant Consulting Group, an incubator and accelerator for companies creating new dental technologies. “Instead of having to focus on all of the other aspects of running a practice, the dentist can automate certain tasks and concentrate on patient care. That’s what drives what we do at Cellerant; getting these companies and technologies out in the market in order to simplify the workflow and optimize the capabilities of the dental practice.”

    Because technology and innovation is the focus at Cellerant, many of their clients are leading the way in voice-activated technologies, automated practice management and marketing software, artificial intelligence and machine learning in caries detection, antibicrobial restoratives and chemical-free water disinfection, to name a few.

    Read more: 6 emerging technologies that will change dentistry forever

    “Some of those new technologies utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning to make things easier for both dental professionals and patients alike,” Dr. Shuman says. “Others are focused on improving the materials used in the dental practice by either making them last longer or take on a more active role in the oral environment.”

    Composite advances

    Science fictionWhen dental composites were developed by Dr. Ray Bowen nearly 60 years ago, they were a welcome alternative to the amalgam that had been used for more than 150 years to fill cavities. Amalgam leaves a lot to be desired. Made up a mixture of silver, mercury, tin and other metals, it has been found to contribute to higher mercury levels in patients’ blood, making finding alternatives to traditional amalgam fillings increasingly important. Esthetics are also a big concern for patients, especially since a study found that 90 percent of adults have at least one dental filling, and the average number of fillings per person is seven.1

    Dr. Jeffrey Kim, project leader at the ADA Foundation Volpe Research Center, is working with researchers to look for ways to improve composites and make them last longer. “Despite our numerous advances with composites, I think dentists are always looking for better dental materials,” Dr. Kim says.

    Researchers are also working on the development of composites with self-healing properties that would actually promote regeneration and healing in the affected tooth as well as increase restoration longevity. Dr. Kim is in year four of a five-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health that looks at how to improve treatment of Class V lesions to promote self-healing.

    “This is a really exciting time,” Dr. Kim says. “We’re changing the chemical properties of the traditional composite to a new composite that can better adapt to the Class V lesion. Since they’re right next to the gum and moisture control is a problem, they can be challenging. The new composite will address those issues. In addition, the composite will promote healing. If there are micro cracks, it can heal those tiny cracks, so the tooth doesn’t become a failure.”

    Innovations in these dental materials of the future will also mean being able to target a composite to a particular type of caries. Dr. Kim is currently submitting patents for his new composite technology and foresees companies picking up on his research and running with it to develop new products.

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    Bioactive materials have been a big part of the conversation about the future of dentistry for a while. Researchers and dentists know that traditional hydrophobic materials will likely be phased out in the future and replaced with something that can actually interact with the living tissues around it.

    “Bioactive materials have the potential to solve the leading cause of failure in restorations and cementation: microleakage,” says Larry Clark, director of clinical affairs and marketing at Pulpdent. “Current resin technologies tend to be hydrophobic and passive in the moist oral environment. Hydrophobic materials do not allow for ion exchange with the tooth structure and can result in microleakage.”

    There’s now a focus on bioactive resin materials, which are hydrophilic and contain minerals that can interact with the tooth structure, helping to create a seal and prevent microleakage. While these materials are already available on the market, the future will offer more in terms of application and delivery.

    “You will begin to see bioactive products addressing white spot lesions in orthodontics, better coronal seals in endodontics and more,” Clark says. “Researchers will continue to find new applications for bioactive materials, from prevention and orthodontics to endodontics, restorative dentistry, bone cements, implants and materials that stimulate tissue regeneration. The ultimate goal of these advances will be to improve patient outcomes with less invasive procedures whenever possible.”

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