Worthwhile but not-universal dental technologies
May 16, 2011 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Interviewing new dentists: please tell me about technologies or skills that are worthwhile but not universal, so I can ask potential dentists if they have 'em.

I have moderate fear of dental stuff, have gone a while without seeing a dentist, and before that I never had much done beyond cleanings, so I'm not familiar with technologies and other things I might want (but can't assume every dentist will have/do.)

Examples: nitrous oxide, digital x-rays, and I think I've heard that some dentists use something fancy and electronic other than the metal scraper thing now. (What's it called?)

Please tell me about more things like this. Opinions are welcome too, but mostly I just want to know what all exists so I can read about it and decide if it's something I want to seek out.
posted by needs more cowbell to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
that fancy and electronic other thing is what my dentist calls water scalling (I don't think that's the right term though, google brings up nothing). Essentially it's a tiny pressurized water jet.. and it's fantastic.

I have mild dentist anxiety due to a traumatic event and I find the water method of cleaning much much much easier to sit through.
posted by royalsong at 2:51 PM on May 16, 2011

Another fancy electronic thing used for tartar removal is the Cavitron, which uses sonic waves. I hate that thing so fucking much it that it now says in my chart that I have to be scaled by hand.

Digital x-rays are pretty cool, if you're the type that chokes on bite wings (I am, although they've gotten better over the years).

Ask about other forms of sedation besides nitrous. I'm pretty fond of Ativan as a dental sedative.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2011

My dentist is a gadget freak. He always has something new. I don't know what these things are called, but I'll describe them, and maybe someone else can give you technical terms.

1. He has some metal wand that both he and the hygienist have used. They run it over my teeth and it makes a varying high pitched sonic sort of sound. Evidently it is an alternate method of checking for cavities that don't show up on x-ray. He also used it after he finished filling a tooth to make sure it was filled completely.

2. A black light gadget that he shines in my mouth with the lights out to check for signs of mouth cancer.

3. A single tooth numbing device. It's a small needle attached to a hose that goes to an electronic device. He sticks it in at the gum, and it pumps in small amounts of Novocain until a beep sounds. The machine is supposed to sense when you've had enough to numb the tooth. He made several sticks around the tooth using this thing.

He also has a Cavitron, but like elsietheeel, I hate that damn thing, too.
posted by kimdog at 3:10 PM on May 16, 2011

From Ms. Vegetable:

The thing that makes cavity filling waaaaaaaaaay less traumatic for me is the surface numbing they put on a qtip before they give you the novacaine shot. Don't know what it's called, though.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:18 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was listening to NPR this morning and several experts expressed a concern about x-rays. The quantity of them and amount of radiation released. The expert said he always asks the speed of the film they're using in their x-rays, or better yet, if they're digital. (Slow speeds are bad because you're unnecessarily being exposed to extra radiation.)
posted by no bueno at 3:26 PM on May 16, 2011

I have dental anxiety. I am also a geek, and I have found a dentist who is a gadget fiend too, and this helps me immensely. The digital X-rays are very cool (not sure they really help me, but I enjoy being able to look at them, which takes my mind off being anxious about being at the dentist. The water jet thing is great. I have never had nitrous oxide, and frankly I never want to (I don't think its new anyway). I am a control freak, and from all descriptions, nitrous is about the last thing I would ever want in a dentists office, some Xanax beforehand is much better.

The best gadget my dentist has is some kind of micro-diamond tip drill that allows him to do shallow fillings without needing to use any novocaine on me. I know, that sounds frightening, but its AMAZING. No painful injections. No more numb face for several hours afterwards. No pain!! Really. I didn't believe it, and I had to talk with two other trusted people* who had tried it first, but it was fantastic.

*One was a vague friend, then other was my SO, who tried it out the last time he had a filling, and he confirmed it was awesome.
posted by Joh at 3:55 PM on May 16, 2011

I agree with the water jet cleaning thing being pretty great, but... in my (admittedly limited to 5 practices since childhood) experience, too many fancy new technologies can actually be a red flag with dentists' offices. Sometimes you get an early adopter who really is on the cutting edge of patient care, but sometimes you get someone who's much more focused on being on the cutting edge of maximizing reimbursement & revenue per patient. The fanciest, most high tech dental office I went to was also the one that wanted me to sign more waivers and do more procedures than any other - ones that my old dentist was fairly aghast at when I returned to him for a second opinion.

Hate to give you something else to worry about (I have dental procedure anxiety too! And that dream where all my teeth are falling out!), but just something to be aware of.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:59 PM on May 16, 2011

My dentist does CEREC crowns where he can make permanent crowns in the office instead of having to do a temporary, send you away for a few weeks, then bring you back for the permanent.
posted by cecic at 4:07 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dentist recently started using single tooth anesthesia. He said it's the single best piece of technology he has seen in the past 20 years. From my perspective as a patient, I totally agree. He used it on me 2 weeks ago to replace a lost filling. It takes 2 minutes to administer, effective immediately, doesn't numb half your face and tongue (just the one tooth!!) so you don't have to worry about biting your tongue the rest of the day. And if you need work on both sides of your mouth you can have it done in one visit instead of two. I have pretty good dental health, (occasional small cavities), so I personally wouldn't expect to need this more than once every few years, but I think it's fantastic. Honestly, after leaving the dentist's office I spent the rest of the day telling everyone I know about this. It's that awesome and I swear I'm no affiliated with the product or dental profession.
posted by ellenaim at 6:28 PM on May 16, 2011

Totally not a dental technology, but having tv in the ceiling makes dental appts go MUCH better for me.
posted by epersonae at 6:34 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would evaluate the dentist, not his gadgets. I had a dentist who had all the latest gadgets but was freaking brutal. Not mater what he did I always left like I'd been punched in he face. My current dentist (Who I'll keep until one of us dies) has very few gadgets.

He does have the single tooth anesthetic which is a dream. Instantly numb, only the tooth that's being worked on, no numbface. Last time I needed it he said he couldn't use it on every tooth, but that may be a limitation on the device he had. But yeah, that's the thing you want.

I recently talked with a lab technician who was scared for his job. He makes dental crowns. He was complaining that now a dentist can wave a wand around the tooth and get a scan that's more precise than a mold, and that data is dumped into a device that will carve a perfectly formed crown within an hour or so. I don't know what the process was called, but it sounds great.
posted by Ookseer at 9:56 PM on May 16, 2011

Waterlase laser dentistry. Shallow cavities need no drilling or anesthetic. It also preserves tooth structure more than traditional drills: for me, this made the difference in just needing multiple cavities filled on a single tooth and having to crown that tooth.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:06 PM on May 16, 2011

Response by poster: deludingmyself & Ookseer: I totally understand, and I'm not especially looking for a dentist who's a gadget whore - I just don't want to end up with someone who's using particularly outdated things or not making use of some very clearly positive (like significantly better for my health) improved technology that a lot of others have moved on to. I wouldn't know what those things might be because I have no experience.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:21 PM on May 16, 2011

I never had much done beyond cleanings

Do you need a lot of new work now? Or still just cleanings? If you're still only going for cleanings, then you don't need any fancy new technology. Dentists pay big bucks for new techniques and equipment, and they may sometimes overuse new devices to justify the investment.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:38 AM on May 17, 2011

Another fancy electronic thing used for tartar removal is the Cavitron, which uses sonic waves. I hate that thing so fucking much it that it now says in my chart that I have to be scaled by hand.

I'm pretty mixed on it too. I find the high pitched noise to be especially irritating, and they tend to be more cavalier in using it than the metal pick, so they occasionally zap your gums and it hurts dammit.
posted by smackfu at 5:46 AM on May 17, 2011

Response by poster: Do you need a lot of new work now?

I can't gauge things well (no point of reference), but I am pretty sure I will need more than a cleaning.

Also, my first childhood dentist was awesome and did sealants on my molars because, in his words, they were kind of deep in the center to begin with. Things were groovy, no cavities. My next one, when I asked about sealants for my new adult molars (also deep) shrugged it off and said they're pointless, and I suspect I have cavities in them now. So I want someone that's generally proactive, too.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2011

Sounds like there's a middle road somwehere. :7) I had a dentist who was a gadget freak. He wanted to remove my four existing crowns and make new ones with his cool new Swiss crown-making kiosk thing. He also gave me treatments I asked not to have and then insisted on payment. I don't go there any more. His gadgetphilia seems unrealted to his being a nebbish.

I had a dentist like 20 years ago who was an early adopter of digital x-rays. [These, BW, beat film x-rays all to heck.] He was dreamy, and I miss going there.

My current dentist thinks it's neat that I bring my iPod to liten to during cleanings, but the hygenist is so charming that I never use it. He lets me see all my x-rays on the PC, which is neart...but they also leave the screen tilted toward me so I could read all the other patients' contact info and appointment times if I chose (and thereby violate the terms of their own, poorly-spelled Privacy Policy). This place seems the best of the lot, frankly.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:01 AM on May 17, 2011

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