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Technology that will shape the future of dentistry

Developments on track to maximise your smile

AI is now firmly embedded in dental care, particularly in orthodontics. Photograph: iStock

In ancient times, dentistry was invariably a barbaric experience – think tooth drilling with no anaesthetic. Fast forward thousands of years and people are still afraid of the dentist, but new techniques and technologies are continually making the time spent in the dentist’s chair quicker, smoother and even more painless.

People have become more health conscious generally as a result of Covid. Photograph: iStock

Innovation in Dentistry looks at the latest innovations in orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry and how advances in technology mean that dentistry has changed irrevocably.

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From AI to smart toothbrushes, augmented reality and virtual reality, we look at the new technologies coming down the tracks that promise to finesse your smile and maximise your dental health in the years to come.

‘Smart’ electric toothbrush

If your TV and fridge can be smart, then why not your toothbrush? These gadgets connect via Bluetooth to an app where you can track how long – and how well – you brush those molars. This is achieved via tiny sensors in the handles of the brush which detect the brush’s position, while others may have pressure sensors, letting you know when you are brushing too hard. But these are expensive pieces of kit and the jury is out on their relative effectiveness. Dentists have been slow to recommend them, saying proper brushing technique is far more important.


Artificial intelligence

Far from being futuristic, AI is now firmly embedded in dental care, particularly in orthodontics. Here it is being used to aid diagnosis, using genetic algorithms that aid in predicting sizes of unerupted teeth. In terms of treatment and follow-up monitoring, it makes virtual models and 3D scans a possibility, making aligners more precise than ever and allowing for unprecedented, tailored treatment plans. Efforts are now being made to link AI with imaging techniques such as MRI so that even the tiniest shift in normal structures can be identified, making for a perfect result.

3D printing

Costly dental implants, aligners and other dental apparatus are set to become far more affordable thanks to 3D printing. The technology offers a cheaper way to create dental tools such as splints, used to prevent tooth grinding. Heretofore, lost or broken splints meant the slow and costly creation of replacements, with a new mould having to be taken of a patient’s mouth. Now with 3D printing, new splints can be produced in a matter of hours. 3D printers have also been used to produce dental implants for a fraction of the cost. It all adds up though – the market for dental 3D printing is set to reach more than $12 billion (€10.35 billion) by 2028.

Augmented reality

It may be an emerging technology, but dentists are already using augmented reality to great effect. The same technology that your social media apps use to create funny filters for your photographs is now being used in both reconstructive and aesthetic procedures in order to help patients know what they will look like once their treatment is completed. Long before a patient sets foot in the dentist’s surgery, they may be able to use their phone to decide exactly how they wish their smile to appear in real life.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) headsets are being worn by dental patients to provide digital distractions – studies have already shown that patients report a significant reduction in their perceived pain when distracted in this fashion. VR is also used in training to allow dentistry students to digitally experience dental procedures from a distance, meaning they can gain specific experience in treating even rare cases.

Regenerative dentistry

Regenerative dentistry may offer an exciting alternative to dentures and other dental prostheses. By stimulating stem cells to encourage the growth of dentin – the bony material that makes up the majority of the tooth – researchers in Nottingham University and Harvard University have developed "self-healing" teeth, allowing patients to effectively regrow teeth that are damaged through dental disease. While the technique is still in its infancy, the inventors are hoping to partner with industry in order to make it more widely available.

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times