The next decade is going to be a great one for your smile. New technologies being developed now will soon enable you to maintain healthy teeth for an entire lifetime – assuming that you can afford the necessary dental treatments. Thankfully, dental savings plans make dental care affordable for everyone. And you’ll want to visit a dentist now so that your teeth are healthy enough to benefit from these new treatments.
Print New (Living!) Teeth
Some dentists are already using 3D printing to speed the process of making and fitting a new crown, bridge or dentures. In-office technology can restore your smile in hours – no more walking around for weeks with a gap in your smile or badly-fitting temporary tooth replacements.
But 3D printing will soon go well beyond the simple creation of replacement teeth. One use that’s being explored now involves replacing the standard “dead” dental crown with what is essentially a living tooth.
Dental crowns are used in conjunction with root canals to save teeth that have become infected or decayed. The treatment typically involves removing the infected parts of a tooth’s internal structure – pulp, nerves and blood vessels. Over time, cut off from its nourishment, the treated tooth can become brittle and prone to breakage. To address that problem, new research has resulted in a 3D-inspired printing process that replicates the blood vessels and nerve structure of a natural tooth. When the printed material was exposed to dental pulp cells, artificial blood vessels and dentin formed inside the tooth within a week. More research is being done, but this is a big step towards being able to fully regenerate a functioning tooth.
Grow Your Own New Teeth
Being able to print new teeth is great, but growing your own at will would be a truly wonderful thing. And we can! Recent studies have shown that humans have the same cells that allow sharks to regrow their teeth.
Sharks like the Great White lose a tooth a day, on average, and grow 30,000-50,000 teeth in a lifetime. They can do this, in part, due to a special set of cells known as dental lamina. Humans have these cells too, but sharks rely heavily on being able to regenerate teeth because they lose them quickly – shark teeth aren’t deeply rooted into the jaw like human teeth are.
Humans only use this power to create a new set of adult teeth to replace their baby teeth. Use it or lose it – and we’ve apparently lost much of our ability to replace teeth. The good news is that scientists are working hard to find ways to reactivate our dental regeneration superpowers.
Imagine a computer-controlled robot with arms capable of performing dental procedures such as drilling, extractions and suturing. Expect those robots to be wielding lasers too, which will enable them to do painless, bloodless dental surgery. But don’t expect your dentist to be replaced by a ‘bot. Technology enhances human expertise; it doesn’t replace it.
Dentists will soon be able to walk right into your mouth with virtual reality treatment tech that enables them to zoom into your cavities and slip between your teeth for a close-up view, and even virtually travel through your teeth’s structures “Fantastic Voyage” style.
Meanwhile, you’ll be in your happy place. Research has shown that dental work is far more enjoyable when a patient thinks that he or she is out cavorting in nature rather than sitting in a dental chair. And yes, it will be nature – studies have shown that patients who were zapped into an urban or fantasy environment did not get the same relaxing results.
Expect the use of virtual reality systems that transport you to a beach, forest, meadow or other natural environment of your choice to become routine in dental practices in about a decade. Dentists who treat patients who have dental phobias are likely to use the technology first.
The internet went wild when Amos Dudley, a 3-D artist, printed his own plastic aligners to fix his crooked teeth. Everyone figured they could make their own braces too, until Dudley explained that the process involves “knowledge of orthodontic movement, a 3D scanner, a mold of the teeth, CAD software, a hi-res 3D printer, retainer material, and a vacuum forming machine.” Whoops.
Dental care requires an advanced skill set, so it’s unlikely we’ll be successfully doing it ourselves by 2027. But we probably will be having virtual visits with the dentist. Telemedicine is increasingly being linked to improvements in healthcare outcomes and patient satisfaction, so why not teledentistry?
In fact, teledentistry has been used since the 90s by the U.S. Military to treat troops: high resolution digital images are taken of the soldier’s mouth and transmitted to a dental specialist, who could then guide a medic through the treatment process. Some states are considering using it to enable specially trained hygienists supervised by “virtual” dentists to provide basic dental care more affordably. Your own dentist may be offering virtual checkups in a decade or so, but you’ll still have to show up in person for a cleaning.
From spotting early signs of disease, addressing dental issues that can cause or worsen medical concerns to providing anti-aging treatments – dentists will increasingly become part of a patient’s medical team. Our understanding of the impact of inflammation on the body’s systems will grow, and we’re likely to see dental treatment recognized as a critical part of preventive health care.
Affordable Dental Care
Predicting the future is always a risky thing, but one thing is for sure: dental care has been segregated from mainstream healthcare for too long. While we wait for dental treatment to be covered by health insurance, dental savings plans can ensure that you can afford dental care now and keep your smile and good health for decades to come.