We all remember going to the dentist, opening wide, and
listening with held breath while he examined our teeth for
decay. "Please, no cavities," we prayed.
With his prickly instrument in hand, our dentist probed every
tooth, looking for "soft" spots where decay had invaded our once
hard, pristine dental enamel. And when the point found its
quarry, a tiny spot of decay, he would nod and say, "We've got a
small one here. We'll watch to see if it grows into something."
No longer. Fast-forward to 2004, and the prickly instrument
takes a back seat to a high-tech laser probe that lands a
preemptive strike in the battle against decay.
Make way for "Minimally Invasive Dentistry." The mouthful of
words means simply that dentists no longer allow dots of decay
to advance into large craters. Armed with the ultimate in
high-tech sleuthing, they now set out to find decay at the
earliest possible moment.
"Now we can absolutely eliminate many large fillings that lead
to cracked teeth, crowns and other more invasive treatment,"
says Dr. Daniel J. Deutsch, of the Washington Center for
Dentistry in Washington, DC.
Here's how it works: The dental decay finder touches the surface
of every tooth, each time flashing a digital score that reports
the presence of decay.
A tooth that scores above a certain number has at least the
tiniest dot of decay.
And getting at the teeny offending area involves another
technological wonder. A gentle dental "sandblaster" uses tiny
particles to whisk away decay in layers. The area gets filled
in with a tooth-colored liquid that hardens in seconds under
a special light.
Patients walk out of the office with tiny fillings.
"And the best part," says Dr. Deutsch, "is they have treatment
with no needle and no drill!"