5 Predictions About the Future of Dentistry
Dental technology has come a long way from cork fillings, wooden dentures, and foot-pedaled drilling tools. Today, dental patients enjoy painless (sedation) dentistry, ceramic fillings, and same-day dental implants. But, what do the next 10 to 20 years hold for dentists and their patients? Will new dental technologies entirely upend the way people receive dental and orthodontic treatments?
1. Regenerative Dentistry
Archeologists have discovered evidence of tooth decay in 15,000-year-old human skulls. Even before the mass availability of sugary, processed foods, people suffered from demineralization of tooth enamel because of their high-carb diets, consisting mostly of wild plants. Scientists also think that transitioning from gathering plants to growing plants led to the widespread emergence of S. mutans, a bacteria responsible for most tooth decay.
As the field of regenerative medicine becomes more mainstream, the potential for regenerating tooth enamel is also becoming a viable reality. Research into regenerating dental enamel has so far involved physico-chemical methods for synthesizing enamel, remineralization of surface enamel using cell-based engineering, and protein matrix–regulated tooth enamel crystal generation. Experiments with reactivating signaling pathways by triggering signals during normal development of tooth enamel are also ongoing and may eventually lead to whole-tooth regeneration.
Tokyo engineers have developed a robot that simulates actual dental patient reactions and gestures during different types of treatments. For example, the robot mimics gag reflexes, coughs, sneezes, blinks/rolls eyes, and even responds to lengthy treatments by decreasing its ability to hold its mouth open (mouth fatigue). Robotic dental patients on which interns can develop their procedural and interactive skills have the potential to significantly enhance and improve the patient experience in the dental office.
Successful root canals, for the most part, depend on the expertise of the endodontist. They must ensure all infected pulp is removed, shape and disinfect the canal, adequately fill the canal with gutta-percha, thoroughly seal the tooth, and place a crown over the tooth. Researchers are currently developing endo-microrobotic systems that can be mounted within a patient’s mouth and guided by both the endodontist and machine learning algorithms. Other robotic systems are expected to be developed to perform basic dental procedures, such as cleaning, polishing, drilling, and filling cavities.
3. Artificial Intelligence
AI is the ability of computer scientists to discover algorithms that can direct digital systems to “behave” as humans do. In addition, AI-powered systems have the ability to learn and improve their behavior based on information collected over time. One of the most commonly used forms of artificial intelligence is the chatbot. Businesses can optimize their customer service approaches by allowing customers to “chat” with a bot that is immediately reachable. Apple’s popular Siri and Tesla’s self-driving cars are other examples of machines controlled by AI.
Virtual dental assistants as mobile or stationary robots may be on the horizon of attainable dental technology. An AI-powered dental assistant can complete tasks more precisely and accurately than human dental assistants, book appointments, and gather a patient’s dental and medical history. AI may also help dentists make problematic diagnoses, recommend treatment programs, and provide online emergency dental consultations with patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the number of people relying on telehealth services for medical treatment. In fact, research shows that the surge in the use of telemedicine over the past two years revealed that this service can be effectively used without compromising patient healthcare needs.
What about the future of teledentistry? While teledentistry may seem counterintuitive to resolving a person’s dental issues, it offers numerous benefits to both dentists and their patients.
- Teledentistry provides access to dental care for home-bound or rural patients who live miles from the nearest dental clinic.
- Teledentistry reaches children who represent the most under-served demographic in the U.S. when it comes to dental care.
- Dentists can rapidly send patient information to orthodontic specialists or dental surgeons to receive treatment recommendations. Most dental specialists work in urban areas that can be difficult for under-served patients to visit.
- Teledentistry helps people with dentophobia overcome their fear of the dental office. Dentists can speak to individuals in the comfort of their homes to provide support and ease their fears.
- It improves appointment and treatment compliance for people who are restricted by employment hours. Millions of patients don’t see a dentist because they either can’t get time off work or can’t afford to miss work. Attending teledentistry appointments at their convenience reinforces compliance with appointments and can help busy patients to get the dental treatments they need.
5. Consolidating Dental Specialties with Access to Continuing Education
General and pediatric dentists provide a wide variety of treatments and services to their patients. Professional exams and cleanings, fillings, necessary extractions, and diagnosing unique teeth and gum issues are just some of the tasks they perform. However, when a pediatric dentist recognizes that a patient needs interceptive orthodontic treatment, they must refer the patient to a dentist qualified to prescribe orthodontic appliances.
A referral means the child’s parents must contact a dentist they are unfamiliar with, make an appointment for a consultation that may be a long distance from their home, and prepare their child for orthodontic work. Consequently, the future of dentistry is fundamentally the future of orthodontics.
Although total spending on dental care in the U.S. decreased slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic, dental organizations expect that to sharply increase over the next several years. Moreover, with continuing advancements in the comfort and aesthetics of braces, parents and adults are readily opting for orthodontic treatments to give them attractive, healthy smiles. To stay ahead of the future of dentistry (and the future of orthodontics), the American Orthodontic Society (AOS) urges general and pediatric dentists to consider incorporating orthodontics into their practice via straight wire courses provided by the AOS. Learn more today by viewing upcoming courses on our website.
To learn more about our popular orthodontics courses for pediatric and general dentists, check out one of the upcoming events below.