If the sounds of dental drills bother you, you are not alone. Just about everyone recognizes the sound of a dentist’s drill, and it is a sound that strikes fear into many people’s hearts as it tends to be associated with an unpleasant experience. Most of us have also wondered
High speed dental drills have been in use since 1911, but it wasn’t until the fifties that the first really effective air turbine drill was invented. The use of compressed air allowed it to achieve an incredibly high rotational speed which was very good news for patients as it enabled dentists to drill teeth much more quickly, minimizing the time spent in the dental chair. Unfortunately compressed air is also responsible for causing that characteristic high pitched whine, and anything spinning at such a high speed also creates a large amount of heat, hence the need for those uncomfortable water spray and suction devices. So if this drill has been around since the fifties, then surely there is something a lot more modern on the horizon?
The answer is yes, as dental lasers look set to shape modern dentistry, and are thankfully completely quiet. Although they have been around since the nineties, and the technology is FDA approved, the American Dental Association has yet to give its seal of approval to any of the lasers currently in use. But increasing numbers of dentists are choosing to use lasers for certain procedures.
Lasers can be used to detect early mineral loss in teeth which is an indication that the area may be susceptible towards cavities. The sooner a cavity can be detected the sooner it can be filled, and the filling will be smaller preserving more of the natural tooth structure. Lasers can also be useful for removing small areas of decay, and patients frequently require little or even no local anesthetic. Lasers are useful in removing bacteria during root canal procedures, and can also be used to remove small portions of tissue for biopsy. The most common use for lasers in the dental office is during teeth whitening treatments as they can speed up the process by activating the peroxide with light energy.
Although lasers may sound miraculous they still have certain disadvantages as they can’t be used on teeth that are already filled, and they are unsuitable for preparing teeth for large fillings or crowns. Traditional drills are still better for shaping fillings and polishing them, and of course this type of technology is expensive. It is estimated only around 10% of dentists use lasers although there are no statistics. So if lasers can’t completely replace the dentist’s drill is there anything else which could?
There could be in the future, as a plasma brush is being developed which is able to remove decayed areas of tooth within a few short seconds. It uses chemical reactions to disinfect the cavity, and is able to create a much stronger chemical bond between the tooth and filling, so in future fillings could last longer. Studies have shown that the fillings could be as much as 60% stronger than conventional fillings. Clinical trials are just beginning, and if all goes well the plasma brush could be available towards the end of 2013. This is good news for fearful patients, and anyone who just hates that high pitched whine.