Are you behind on your dental visits, and now you’re being driven in by a toothache, other dental problems, or guilt?

If so, be prepared — not for a lecture from your dentist — but for discovering that there is a host of new options to keep teeth healthy and beautiful.

Here are some of the newer dental care procedures and techniques that leading dentists are bringing into their practices.

Improving Dental Health: How High-Tech X-Rays Can Help

In some dental offices, digitized X-rays (think digital camera) are replacing traditional radiographs. Although digital X-rays have been on the market for several years, they have recently become more popular with dentists.

Digital X-rays are faster and more efficient than traditional radiographs. First, an electronic sensor or phosphor plate (instead of film) is placed in the patient’s mouth to capture the image. The digital image is then relayed or scanned to a computer, where it is available for viewing. The procedure is much faster than processing conventional film.

Your dentist can also store digital images on the computer and compare them with previous or future images to see how your dental health is being maintained.

And because the sensor and phosphor plates are more sensitive to X-rays than film is, the radiation dose is reduced.

Digital X-rays have many uses besides finding cavities. They also help look at the bone below the teeth to determine if the bone level of support is good. Dentists can use the X-rays to check the placement of an implant — a titanium screw-like device that is inserted into the jawbone so that an artificial tooth can be attached.

Digital X-rays also help endodontists — dentists who specialize in root canals — to see if they have thoroughly cleaned the canal during the procedure.

Lasers for Tooth Cavity Detection

Traditionally, dentists use an instrument they call the “explorer” to find cavities. That’s the instrument they poke around with in your mouth during a checkup. When it “sticks” in a tooth, they look closer to see if they find decay.

Many dentists are now switching to the diode laser, a higher-tech option for detecting and removing cavities. The laser helps to identify pockets of bacteria inside the tooth, producing a digital readout of the level of bacteria. The dentist can then choose to watch the tooth, comparing the levels at the next visit, or advise that the cavity be removed and the tooth filled.

When healthy teeth are exposed to the wavelength of the diode laser, they don’t glow or fluoresce, so the reading on the digital display is low. But decayed teeth glow in proportion to the amount of decay, resulting in higher readings on the display.

The diode laser doesn’t always work with teeth that already have fillings, but for other teeth, it could mean earlier detection of cavities.

One drawback to the diode laser: It tends to show more “false positives,” indicating a cavity when there isn’t one.

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