A whopping 2.4 billion people have untreated tooth decay, and that’s just the beginning of the world’s dental problems. Maintaining healthy teeth and gums goes beyond a pearly white smile. Your mouth is an entry point for germs and bacteria that can quickly spread from your teeth and gums to other internal organs and systems in the body. Studies are increasingly showing a link between dental hygiene and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and failure to prevent the build-up of these contaminants causes problems ranging from tooth decay and gum disease to heart complications and cancer.
But despite its importance to a person’s overall well-being, oral health is commonly overlooked. Believe it or not, approximately one-third of the US population has never used dental care in their lifetime. Affordability, affordability, anxiety, busy schedules, improper training, and poor patient experiences are the most common reasons for these alarming statistics. But can technology help us compensate for this shortcoming?
Let’s make one thing clear: there is no substitute for brushing, flossing, and going to the dentist. But that being said, modern advancements have helped transform dentistry to improve the patient experience.
Digital platforms enable better education
The first innovation isn’t the flashiest, that’s for sure — but it’s often the unexpected that makes the biggest difference.
Miseducation about oral health and dentistry keeps many patients from visiting the dentist regularly. Many adults never learn anything more than brushing their teeth twice a day, while others believe that you should only visit the dentist when something is wrong. These partial truths and misunderstandings lead to a growing number of adults with significant dental problems that ultimately lead to more serious health problems. Dental experts have been able to educate the masses using digital channels such as websites, blogs and social media. These platforms allow dentists to provide their followers with up-to-date information on oral health, the dental industry, and the latest technological advances. Whether it’s an article, surveys, polls, infographics, images or videos, content helps improve patient understanding, reduce fears, ease suspicions and increase dental visits.
Digital platforms can also help dental students learn more about their craft. A recent study analyzed the impact digital platforms are having on education, concluding:
“Dental e-learning has the capacity to develop into a leader in strengthening clinical learning skills among dental students through continuing dental education, assignments, formative assessments, case descriptions and their treatment modalities through e-learning are the most -the best ways to improve the quantity and quality of dental education.”
Shorter dental procedures save time
In previous years, when a dental patient had significant problems, multiple visits were required for treatment. Even something as simple as getting a crown would take two encounters. For patients with busy schedules, dental fears, or tight budgets, traveling twice is a challenge they’d rather not experience. Time, as they say, is money – and when you go to the dentist, it can be a lot of money. Consequently, many would avoid visiting a dentist to get the treatment they need.
Technological advances in dentistry have paved the way for shorter dental procedures. 3D dentistry allows dental professionals to print crowns, implants and dentures on site for faster service. Procedures that used to take several appointments over several months can now be completed in just a few hours. Patients save money on co-payments and avoid missing work or other obligations. It also helps to ease the anxiety of patients who are afraid of repeatedly returning to the dentist for invasive treatment.
It’s not just better procedures – the materials themselves have gotten better over the past few years. Science has not been idle and materials science is one of the fastest growing fields of research; dental materials could not be left behind. Most recently, an exciting study announced a filling that is twice as strong and longer lasting than those currently used in dental clinics. Although the material may not yet be available in clinics, it should arrive soon, and this is far from the only exciting research in this area.
Dental materials are becoming increasingly elastic and aesthetically pleasing. To make matters even better, self-healing dental materials may be just around the corner. They’re not here yet, but they should be soon—another reason to keep your teeth healthy in the meantime.
Less painful and invasive processes
Regardless of your pain threshold, no one likes painful and invasive dental procedures. Many processes require drilling bones and cutting gums, which can take weeks or even months to heal. This is why many people will avoid going to the dentist for help.
Fortunately, modern advances have made dental procedures less painful and invasive. For example, laser technology makes placing dental implants easier. Dentists can quickly find the best place for implants, and lasers help them make small, precise incisions in the gums. Patients experience less blood, less pain and less risk of infection. Laser-assisted dental implants also do not require sutures, which are itchy and uncomfortable.
Patient portals provide convenience
From long waits at the dentist and lengthy paperwork to scheduling appointments and filling prescriptions, the patient experience is fraught with complications. Patients already have a lot at their disposal and therefore require or prefer easy-to-manage processes. If going to the dentist means waiting for hours, filling out the same paperwork, remembering an appointment you made six months ago, and going back and forth to the pharmacy, some patients would rather avoid the madness altogether.
Patient portals help alleviate their frustrations. Having an account on a dental website or mobile app allows patients to fill out forms, analyze their medical records, schedule appointments, view educational materials, request and download referrals, fill prescriptions, receive invoices, make payments and receive notifications in real time. These platforms provide convenience, save time, and help cultivate stronger dentist-patient relationships.
The importance of oral health to overall health cannot be denied. If you think you may need to see a dentist – do it; and always remember to brush and floss. Technology can help us, but it cannot do everything for us.
The above innovations have changed the game from using digital platforms to provide better education to advanced technology for less painful and invasive procedures. Patients can now save time and money while alleviating their fears and suspicions by encouraging them to prioritize their oral health.