Advances in digital technology continue to revolutionize almost every aspect of modern life. While you will almost certainly always need a 'real' dentist to help you look after your teeth, digital dentistry can offer patients a range of important benefits. If your dentist starts to talk to you about digital treatment, find out what he or she means, and learn more about the benefits and changes you can expect.
Traditional versus digital dentistry
Digital dentistry is the term experts use to describe the use of technology during dental procedures. Where traditional dentistry generally relied on mechanical or electrical tools, digital dentistry uses technology to change the way dentists interact with their patients.
Examples of digital dentistry you may come across include:
- Computer-aided design and fabrication of implants
- Dental lasers
- Digital radiography and imaging
- 3-D printing of models
- Digital photography
Developments in digital technology are occurring all the time. As a patient, perhaps the most exciting thing about digital dentistry is that you can expect to continually see and experience new techniques and methods.
Digital techniques remove the need for many expensive raw materials. In much the same way that online technology can cut down on the amount of paper the average office uses, digital dentistry helps practitioners save money on costly resources. For example, if your dentist uses digital X-rays, he or she doesn't need to print out the images onto film, which removes the need to use expensive and harmful chemicals.
In some cases, digital techniques can offer considerable cost savings. A study published in 2015 concluded that 3D printing in dentistry could realize savings of $2 billion per year by 2016, increasing to $3.1 billion by 2020. 3D printing can produce many of the components that your dentist uses for crowns and bridges at considerably lower costs. As this technology becomes more common, dentists can pass on these cost savings to patients.
Digital dentistry can drastically cut the amount of time it takes to complete routine procedures. For example, as part of dental restoration work, dentists must often take an impression of the patient's teeth with an unpleasant tasting material. Digital dentistry now allows dentists to use a digital scan, avoiding the need for the patient to experience any bad tastes.
What's more, as part of this process, the dentist can then use the scan to create a 3D model of the tooth while the patient waits. Before now, dentists would have had to send the impression away, adding to the time it took to resolve the patient's problem. Digital technology allows the dentist to diagnose and fix the problem in one visit, which is especially great for a 24-hour dentist with patients who need immediate care.
Better patient outcomes
Many digital techniques offer patients a greater degree of precision and outcome quality. Even with the most skilled dentists, some manual techniques will always include a margin of error that can influence the result. Some traditional techniques are unpredictable, and it's also often difficult for a dentist to accurately diagnose certain problems. Digital dentistry can take away this uncertainty.
For example, cone-beam computed tomography (CT) imaging produces a 3-D image of the patient's head, including the teeth, jaws, gums and nerves. These digital images greatly improve image clarity compared to a traditional X-ray and give the dentist more information. These CT images can even show up tumors and diseases that a dentist cannot see on a conventional X-ray.
Laser technology can also greatly enhance many complex dental procedures. Dentists can use lasers to place dental implants, guaranteeing a perfect fit by eliminating the need for scalpels, drills and other implements. What's more, the pinpoint accuracy of digital lasers means that patients may even no longer need anesthesia during the process.
Digital dentistry is increasingly common across the United States, transforming treatment methods and patient outcomes. Talk to your dentist to learn more about how digital dentistry could benefit you and your loved ones.