It’s time to take a step back and consider how your practice can evolve over the next 10 years.
In the medical world, it’s important to always be in the know. New technologies, new treatments, and new opportunities are always right around the corner. In this article, we explore just 7 of the apparent trends that are shaping the future of dentistry.
7 Things for Dentists to Expect in the Next 10 Years
Medical futurists and dental-specific futurists like Bertalan Meskó have predicted a bright future for dentistry, where technological advances allow for treatments that we’ve never seen before.
Several innovative technologies are making waves and beginning to find their way into dental offices worldwide. Most of these ideas come from dentists who are now using this technology in their dental practices or are planning to implement these advancements soon.
1. Regenerative Dentistry
Regenerative dentistry is a new field that aims to produce biological therapies for damaged teeth and allow for the creation of regenerating, “self-healing” teeth.
Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Nottingham have previously developed a dental filling that allows teeth to heal, winning the materials category at the Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Technologies Competition. This process stimulates stem cells that trigger the growth of dentin, allowing patients to essentially “regrow” damaged teeth.
While teeth regeneration technologies are still in their early stages, dental and medical futurists predict that regenerative dentistry will make its way into the mainstream and become a sought-after treatment for patients worldwide.
What this means for dentists today: With regenerative dentistry, you’ll be able to provide your patients with tooth repair that doesn’t involve invasive treatments. As a dentist, the best way to prepare is to review and learn more about these advances, and take training courses in these new technologies when they become available.
2. Augmented Reality (AR) Training
Augmented reality (AR) is when the real world is blended with a virtual environment. And when it comes to dentistry training, it means dental students can put on a headset and see a “virtual mouth” in front of them on which they can practice procedures in real time. This has dramatic applications in dentistry regarding training and allowing dental students to get immediate feedback on how they perform particular dental procedures.
With AR technology, dental students can see “virtual teeth” that they can work on with real instruments in real time.
By combining a digital rendering with cameras that track instruments and hand movements, students will receive hands-on training that’s much more accurate and realistic than what was possible in the past.
What this means for dentists today: AR will change how dentists are trained by allowing them to visualize a patient’s teeth virtually and practice everything from basic to complex procedures without working on an actual patient. Even if you’ve been practicing dentistry for 20 years, don’t be surprised if an instructor places a headset on you during a future training course.
3. Digital Workflows
Dental futurists see an increasing shift to digital workflows in dentistry and the digitalization of the dental profession, along with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the dental analysis of x-rays, scans, and samples.
Digital workflows and CAD/CAM technology speed up dental procedures that used to take several weeks, making patients happier and improving the quality of their visits. With increasing digitalization, dental professionals can increase their efficiency, improve their quality of patient care, and make more accurate diagnoses. In short, these are a way to merge the physical world with technology and rely more on the technological side as a dentist. This means automating specific tasks that would otherwise require a fair amount of manual effort and quickly completing patient check-ins, forms, waivers, and other documentation.
Many dentists are already implementing digital workflows that allow them to communicate with laboratory technicians easily, perform CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) restorations, and enhance intra-oral scanning. This is the very beginning of a much larger movement.
One of the most significant recent trends in the move toward digital dentistry is the ability to apply a dental crown in a single visit. Using CAD/CAM technology, a dentist can scan, shape, mold, and manufacture a custom crown in 3D right on the spot, saving the patient several weeks of waiting for a dental lab.
Dentists should expect this digital transition to continue and see new improvements in workflows, procedures, and dental processes across the board.
What this means for dentists today: You can begin implementing digital workflows into your dental practice by starting small and upgrading your paperwork and documentation process, eventually moving up to the CAD/CAM world by buying equipment that lets you mold and physically “print” a crown for a patient on the spot.
4. Monitoring of Inflammatory Markers & Biomarkers
As dental technology improves, dentists should expect improved patient monitoring and the ability to diagnose dental and systemic diseases with greater accuracy.
By monitoring inflammatory markers and biomarkers, dentists can understand their patient’s health more granularly. For example, saliva can be collected noninvasively and used to obtain an individual's “snapshot” of the oral microbiome, indicating information such as collagen breakdown, enzyme levels, and various inflammatory markers.
As it stands today, most dental diseases are diagnosed after the damage has been done. Dental futurists advocate for solutions such as saliva testing that screen for high enzyme activity levels, early inflammation, collagen breakdown, or other precursors to more serious dental disease.
Overall, dentists should expect improved patient monitoring and the ability to diagnose various dental conditions and diseases earlier, with greater accuracy.
What this means for dentists today: As a dental professional, the best way to prepare for advancements in biomarker and inflammatory marker technology is to stay in the loop regarding brand-new dental advancements and leap into action as soon as this tech is available to your practice. Instead of focusing only on oral hygiene, dentists can obtain an overall “bill of health” for their patients using biomarkers and offer solutions in adjacent areas.
Teledentistry gives patients more accessible dental and oral care by seeing their dentist and consulting with them virtually. Instead of having to wait for a physical appointment, a patient would be able to converse with their dental professional on their smartphone or webcam and receive instant feedback.
Teledentistry, similar to telemedicine, is continuing to make a wave and change the way we interact with our dentists.
What this means for dentists today: You can begin preparing for teledentistry now by signing up for teledentistry software and application solutions with your practice. This technology is already readily available and will become even more advanced as time goes on. Teledentistry allows your patients to build trust in you and establishes a more frequent line of communication. More frequent communication means a stronger patient-dentist relationship.
6. CRISPR & Gene-Editing Technology
CRISPR and gene-editing technologies have tremendous potential in the dental industry. The core idea behind these technologies is that they modify genetic code to produce favorable results biologically.
Researchers have already begun studying the use of CRISPR to inactivate various oral cancer-associated genes. Other applications include altering the bacteria responsible for plaque formation and using this technology to prevent periodontal disease and dental caries.
What this means for dentists today: Gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR will allow you to eradicate plaque-forming bacteria and even remove various oral genes associated with cancers. Imagine offering this to your existing dental patients and the tremendous quality of life improvements they’ll experience as a result. As this technology improves, the possibilities are truly endless.
7. Advanced Intra-Oral Cameras
Rather than using inconvenient mirrors to see inside patients’ mouths, dental technology is advancing rapidly with innovations in intra-oral cameras. These cameras allow dentists to look at patients’ teeth with far greater clarity than they would see with the human eye.
These cameras allow doctors to more conveniently see their patient’s teeth and allow patients to sit more comfortably without the pain that comes with opening their mouths wide for an extended period.
What this means for dentists today: With advanced intra-oral cameras, you’ll be able to examine your patients’ oral health in greater detail. This allows you to spot potential problems earlier, feel more confident during operations, and perform dental procedures more accurately.
Dentistry has advanced in leaps and bounds from its beginnings to the present day, and the future for dental professionals is bright.
If you know these technologies are on their way to becoming a regular part of dental practices worldwide, you can begin making preparations and thinking of ways to implement this new tech into your practice, improving the quality of your patient care.
This means creating a budget for technological advancement and innovation and planning to incorporate these technologies into your dental practice.
You can read scientific journals and articles to stay current and be ready to leap when the situation presents itself. The opportunities for dentists are there — the question is, will you be ready to execute when they present themselves?
Image courtesy of istock.com/Leyn