Healthcare is always at the center of technological innovation, but it appears that dentistry is a major focal point in today’s market. From technology that fixes existing problems to devices that can print dental products and applications, the industry is buzzing with excitement.
Challenges Facing Dentistry
It’s been estimated that roughly 9 to 15 percent of Americans avoid going to the dentist unless absolutely necessary. That comes out to roughly 30 to 40 million people! More than one-third of those who avoid the dentist say they do so out of fear.
When looking at dental care in America, it’s also important to acknowledge the high cost of seeing a dentist. Many health insurance plans don’t cover dental care, or they require additional monthly premiums to gain access to insurance that only covers a fraction of the costs incurred from teeth cleanings, fillings, and procedures.
In The Huffington Post’s four-part series on America’s oral health care crisis, reporter Wendell Potter claims most dental plans limit coverage to just $1,500 per year – not nearly enough to pay for braces or expensive, complicated procedures like crowns and bridges.
In other words, the average American finds dental care to be both expensive and scary. For this reason, those in the dental industry – dentists themselves and technologists who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening – recognize the need for innovation to address issues like cost and comfortability.
Innovation on the Rise
Like most medical fields, from dentistry to traditional Chinese medicine, advances in technology and exciting innovations are coming down the pipeline. The future of dentistry will look a lot different than it does currently. It’s a field that’s becoming increasingly focused on comfortable, cost-effective practices and techniques that prioritize preventative care over reactionary procedures.
While it’s impossible to prevent every issue, the hope in the world of dentistry and healthcare is that issues like cracks, decay, and even forms of oral disease can be identified earlier so that further complications can be avoided. One promising technology is VELscope, a special type of light that dentists can use to detect abnormalities in the mouth.
The VELscope device works by emitting a harmless blue light that dentists can use to inspect the soft tissues of the mouth and tongue. The device is highly sensitive to abnormal tissue changes and causes the mouth to naturally fluoresce.
“Healthy tissues fluoresce in distinct patterns that may be visibly disrupted when tissue undergoes an abnormal change (which can occur in the oral mucosa for a multitude of reasons,) such as when associated with dysplasia or oral cancer,” VELscope explains.
Prevention and early-detection are always supreme goals in healthcare, but there are also times when dentists and oral healthcare specialists must use their skills and training to remediate existing issues. And because millimeters matter in dental care, precision is a huge priority – especially in surgery.
“When practitioners and researchers have the ability and access to develop incredibly precise tools for surgical applications, it opens up a new range of possibilities for the dental industry and for the medical science industry at large,” says Dávid Lakatos, Head of Product at Formlabs, the developer of the Form 2 3D printer, which is the first to use biocompatible resin. “Formlabs is leading the way in helping to advance patient care by introducing solutions that enable personalized surgical planning and mass customization.
Speaking of customization, the popular Invisalign technology continues to improve. For those unfamiliar with the product, it’s essentially a clear-aligner treatment that serves the same purpose as braces but is invisible and can be removed from time to time. While it can’t be used in cases where teeth are seriously misaligned, it’s proven quite helpful for people with minor cosmetic issues.
Exciting Developments Coming
The dentistry field faces an uphill climb when it comes to external factors like incomplete healthcare coverage, fear, and anxiety. The good news, however, is that advances in technology are yielding benefits that directly counteract the friction that so many Americans deal with.
Over the next few years, these technologies and others will continue to be refined. As they improve, one can only assume that the state of dental care in the United States will follow suit.
|This article was contributed by fellow NYU students. If you would like to make a contribution to the NYU Dispatch, please email us.|