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With digital technology increasingly evident in routine dentistry, I thought that it would be interesting to think about some predictions for the future of dentistry.

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of coverage about Stem Cell research and the growth of new teeth. In 2017, researchers at Kings College London found a new way to stimulate the renewal of living cells in tooth pulp using medication commonly given for Alzheimer’s disease. This discovery has set many great minds to thinking and I predict that we will be seeing more of this kind of research. Who knows, maybe in 50 years dentists will be able to totally re-grow damaged or missing teeth. With a similar focus, there is also some research being done into the teeth of some species of shark that naturally grow new sets of teeth throughout their lifetime.

Another interesting concept that is rumored to be just over the horizon is the plasma toothbrush. This device would reportedly use ‘pulsed atmospheric plasma’ to weaken the bond between the bacteria that forms on teeth everyday (plaque) and the tooth surface. The idea is that atoms created from these plasma pulses would first weaken the daily bond between plaque and tooth surface making it easier to brush and clean teeth afterwards.

Technology based on our saliva may soon be used to help indicate whether we are at risk of periodontal disease. In the link to Dentistry IQ above, Richard H. Nagelberg describes ‘salivary diagnostic tech’ which can analyse saliva, indicate the presence of disease and later report back to the patient via their smart phone. You can find out more about salivary diagnostics in this American Dental Association abstract.

With smart phones in mind, I wonder if we will see more home use, patient focused diagnostic tools such as those that create reports for patients to view on their smart phones that can then be brought to a dentist. We already see simple ‘smile prediction’ technology online where a person can upload a picture and see a rough picture of their profile with straighter teeth. Of course, orthodontics is a medical procedure and a professional must undertake any treatment and diagnosis.  Any use of smart phones is unlikely to avoid the need for a more detailed examination of the mouth carried out by a professional.

With the advent of 3D scanners, printers and digital imaging software, the orthodontist can see a patient’s predicted treatment results at the outset. Even with the clearest digital map of treatment results performed by a specialist, changes can occur in a patients mouth along the way and very much like this, sometimes what we think will be coming our way with new technology, often appears in a slightly different form. 20 years ago for example, we could never have predicted how much computers and digital technology would be part of our daily and working lives. So for now, we can only keep up to date with the latest dental advances and wait for the next big science story to break!