Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Future of Dentistry

I was reading the Winter 2013 edition of the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry (Vol. 28, Issue 4) the other day when I came across a conversation with “cosmetic legend” Dr. David Garber about the effects of technology on dentistry. Reading the questions and answers took me back to undergrad.

I have always had an interest in the fine arts and have always been an artist wannabe. There is something so fascinating and amusing about creating a pleasant visual. Right after college, I decided to pursue my interest in arts and was about to start a graduate program in architecture when my life took a turn. A year later, I found myself in a pre-doctoral dental clinic in San Francisco, producing a different kind of art and enjoying the amazing diversity in the artistic culture of the city.

I went deeper in my thoughts to imagine how my life would have been had I graduated an architect. The architecture that I know and love is sitting behind a draft table with my fine point pencils, sketching my ideas and drafting the structures. The joy in being creative to me is not just in having a creative imagination, but also in the skills that enable me to execute it hands-on. As an architect now however, I would be sitting behind a computer screen and using my mouse. I would drag and drop the lines and with only a few clicks, my imagination would take existence. While it would still be an amazing opportunity to show my creativity, I would miss my pencils greatly. This once again reassured me that I had chosen the right path in a career that will never replace my hands-on work with computer software. Or will it?

What is the future of dentistry and where are we headed? Will I soon be sitting behind a computer screen with a scan of my patient’s mouth, programming a robot to perform the treatment? Maybe not to that extent, but it sure seems like we are headed in that direction.

Take a minute to recap how far we have come in dentistry with respect to new gadgets and technologies. It’s unbelievable. Electronic records software can do about 80% of what an administrative assistant would do. Digital radiography eliminates the necessity of an assistant developing films. Auto-fill obturator units eliminate the need for a dentist to condense laterally or vertically. Lasers give everyone the skillful hands that once only a trained surgeon would have had. CAD/CAM technology may one day fully replace the skills of a ceramist!

There are many ideas that are circling around dentistry that may not be yet functional. But imagine a day when they all develop to work just as beautifully as a human hand. How unreal is the work of tomorrow to the limited capacity or our current minds. Just as in the medical field surgeries are being done remotely with robots, I see a day in the future of our field where a programmed intra-oral robot may take over my chairside time and I would only have to endorse the treatment plan! It would be much easier on my back, but for some reason I question whether I want to be around when it actually becomes mainstream!

Mona Goodarzi, DDS

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