Computer Based Technologies in Dentistry

More and more patients are seeking dental treatments today because of the increasing use of computer and digital technologies in the advancement of the provision of dental care. Even students of dentistry are now taught and trained using such technologies, allowing them to better examine, diagnose, and plan the treatment of their future patients. In this article, we shall examine three of the most prominent computer-based technologies that are now creating a buzz in the world of dentistry.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality in dentistry is currently anchored in education whereby future dentists are given highly-realistic virtual environments that simulate real-life scenarios. This allows dentistry students to apply learned principles and concepts in simulated patient situations. It encourages the enhancement of their necessary professional competencies while also allowing them to make mistakes without necessarily endangering their ‘virtual’ patients.

At the very least, they can learn from these mistakes so that they will be better prepared when such situations arise in the real world. That being said, virtual reality instructional environments can help ensure better and safer patient care. Here’s a great post to read about the impact of such technologies in patient care.

Virtual reality technologies can help students and even dental practitioners master the art of performing an otherwise-complicated maxillofacial surgery, tooth preparation for restorative purposes, and even in simple tooth scaling.

Augmented Reality

The difference between virtual reality and augmented reality is that the latter utilizes real-world objects or environments as the base ‘environment’. The virtual component or images are then superimposed on the real-world image so that dentists have a better understanding of how components will look once fixed into its place.

For example, the dentist may be looking at the oral cavity where a missing tooth is being considered for replacement with a dental implant. The image is that of the actual oral cavity of the patient, but a digital image of the dental implant can be superimposed on the ‘real’ image so that the dentist will be able to determine whether it is a good fit or not or perhaps look for other indicators that will suggest the need for other methods.

Whereas virtual reality technologies are typically used in learning settings, AR technologies are primarily used in dental implantations, analysis of temporomandibular joint motion, maxillofacial surgery, and prosthetic dental and oral surgery. It is especially useful in maxillofacial surgery because of its ability to allow visualization of deeper structures that may otherwise be masked by other structures. A 3D image of the area where surgery will be performed can be superimposed on the actual surgical site. This will allow the maxillofacial surgeon to make more precise surgical treatments and even modifications.

For patients, this easily translates to improved surgical safety.

Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing

While the use of computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technologies is not entirely new, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the dental profession began integrating these systems into their clinical practice.

Today, some of the prosthetics used in a variety of dental procedures are designed and manufactured using data collected by digital scanners. This data is processed by highly-advanced programs which then communicate with other components of the CAD/CAM technology to produce the final product.

In the past, one could not expect to fabricate zirconia by conventional means. With the use of CAD/CAM technologies, dentists and dental product manufacturers can easily fabricate zirconium-based devices. Of course, zirconium is not the only material that can be used in the fabrication process. Even composite resin, metallic blocks, and porcelain can now be used in the production of patient-specific prosthetics.

This also means that patients no longer have to undergo dental impressions since intra-oral scanners can already be used to make more accurate digital representations of their oral cavity including gums and teeth. This can substantially improve the time needed to fabricate dental restorative devices. While the technology is substantially more expensive than going for a manual dental impression, the significant reduction in the patient’s disruption of normal activities of daily living is more than enough incentive to get a CAD/CAM-based prosthetic.

While these computer-based technologies can greatly improve the delivery of dental care, not all dentists use them. It will take some time before everyone in the dental profession will start integrating these technologies into their practice.