Patients lie back in a comfortable, ergonomically designed chair and look up at not a harsh industrial ceiling light, but a soothing forest scene. Diagnostic checks can be made using small, painless cameras and scopes. And some treatments can be performed not with the conventional Novocain shots and drills, but with lasers, further enhancing the experience of the dental visit.
They’re just a few of the notable ways that technology is changing dentistry, according to Dr. Fred Guerra of Guerra Dental in Colorado Springs.
“It’s been leaps and bounds,” says Guerra, whose practice is located at 3208 North Academy Blvd, Suite 100. “With the use of the techniques, materials, instruments, diagnostic capabilities, creature comforts for the patients — it’s certainly moved dentistry away from the fear factor. People know their dentist takes their feelings into account and does everything possible to make them comfortable.”
That technology is evident from the time a patient enters Guerra Dental, and takes a seat in one of the massage chairs in the waiting area. From diagnosis to treatment to patient comfort, technology continues to enhance every aspect of a dental visit, as dentists and hygienists make use of equipment and techniques that might have seemed so futuristic just a few years ago.
A More Comfortable Experience
For patients, the differences can be notable and immediate, especially when it comes to comfort in the office. Rather than old, awkward dental chairs, patients at Guerra Dental lie back in ergonomic models padded by Tempur-Pedic mattress tops. The screen covering the overhead lights in the exam room is replaced by a green, relaxing forest scene. Patients even have use of noise-reducing headphones if desired.
Technology also helps to streamline the examination process. Many practices are moving toward digital x-rays, which emit considerably less radiation than conventional film-based x-rays. “We’re also moving toward CAT scan technology,” Guerra says. “We have a CAT scan so you can see things three-dimensionally.”
Rather than the chalky paste that patients once had to have in their mouths to make molds, dentists can now use digital scanners that send the results to a laboratory which produces the crown or veneer based off the model. “It’s a lot more comfortable,” Guerra says. And small, tubular intraoral cameras allow dentists to take close-up photos and magnify them up on a large TV screen so the patient can better understand any diagnosis and potential treatment.
Eliminating the ‘Fear Factor’
Guerra is also among the many dentists now screening for oral cancer using a device called the VELscope, which painlessly emits a blue light that readily identifies any potentially cancerous areas — which show up to the dentist as a black spot. “It highlights things in the pink tissue that you can't see with just your normal light,” Guerra says. “That gives you some indication that the area might be warranted for further testing or biopsy.”
When it comes to treatment, some minor procedures — like contouring of gum tissue, removal of infection, or some cosmetic procedures — can now be done with a laser, removing the need for a Novocain injection. “It eliminates the fear factor of having to get a shot,” Guerra says.
Another cosmetic procedure, Zoom whitening, is done in-office with lights that activate a chemical bleaching process, and works much faster than strips bought from the grocery store. And filling materials continue to evolve and improve — almost all of the products used now are porcelain and tooth-colored, which blend in far better than the old metal fillings.
“In all cases those materials have just been markedly enhanced,” Guerra says. “We’re now on the fifth or sixth generations of porcelains that mimic natural teeth and give a lifelike nature to what you’re trying to produce, giving the patient the best aesthetic results.”
Guerra’s practice is also one of the growing number that use teledentistry, in which patients with a concern can take a photo of the problem area with their cellphone and email it to the office, where Guerra and his staff can gauge how serious the issue might be. It’s a particularly effective tool on weekends, where Guerra can ease patients’ minds on minor issues that can wait until Monday.
It’s another example of how — beyond brushing and flossing at home — patients can play an active role in their own dental care, and how the technology in the dentist’s office helps to foster a greater degree of cooperation between doctor and patient.
“In the past, you’d go to the dentist and they’d say ‘You need this, you need that,’ and you didn’t even know basically what he was talking about. Now we have the ability for the dentist or the hygienist to show you what’s going on, and we’re thinking more about the term ‘co-diagnosis’ verses the traditional white coat telling the patient, ‘You need this,’” Guerra says.
“It’s about giving the patient some choice, because they can see what’s going on. It’s much better when they can ask the dentist, ‘What do you think is best, and what are my options or treatment?’”
Interested in learning how dental technology can help enhance your next visit, or simply scheduling a cleaning to improve your oral health? Contact Guerra Dental at (719) 888-4074, use their online form to request an appointment, or visit their website at GuerraDental.com for more information.