Cosmetic dentistry takes on new polish
Cosmetic dentistry's new high-tech toys can show you the way to a picture-perfect smile
Got a tooth problem? Fax it to your dentist.
"Okay, okay, I know it sounds outlandish but I really do think that this is the wave of the future," says Dr. Edward Philips, a dental surgeon who specializes in cosmetic techniques.
"This" is the array of gently beeping technological devices crowding Philips' downtown Toronto consulting rooms.
"Look at this, this is great, every home should have one" he enthuses, picking up the handset of an AT&T Picasso-C Still Image phone.
The state-of-the-art device can transmit images over the telephone line on to a video monitor, and can store up to 32 pictures.
"If you had one of these at home, you could plug your video camera into it and send me a picture of your teeth. Then I could send you back some options on what you could have done to make your smile look better," says Philips.
Welcome to the brave new world of interactive technology, where dentists put their money where your mouth is by investing in a variety of high-tech toys aimed at giving patients something to smile about.
"This is cutting edge technology right now, but it will be the way all dentistry is done soon, I'm absolutely sure about that," says Philips who envisions a dazzling future of cyber-smiles.
While Philips is somewhat of a pioneer in embracing technology of this sort in Canada, it's a small but growing trend.
About 5 per cent of dental offices here are currently using this kind of technology, while in the U.S., it's 20 per cent, says George Osterbauer of the dental supply company Ash, Temple Ltd.
"It's been a growing market during the '90s, and it's just starting to really take off," he says.
Markham dentist George Freedman likes to take his patients "for a magical mystery tour of the mouth" with an intra-oral camera.
The camera, which is small enough to fit behind the last tooth in the mouth, has a strong light attached to it and is hooked up to a video screen the patient can watch.
"That way, they can really see the gums they're not talcing care of, the cavities starting on the side they miss with the brush, and they see it all magnified on the big screen," he says.
Freedman believes his office was the first in Canada to use interactive imaging for diagnosis and patient information. Using the intra-oral camera and a computer, patient and dentist experiment with different treatments and cosmetic techniques, seeing the results on the screen.
The computer digitalizes the photo images of the patient's real teeth, and the dentist can then play with those images.
Want to see how you'd look with whiter teeth? With straighter or more even teeth through bonding or veneers? With that gap filled in or those long eyeteeth smoothed down? The digital world knows.
The pictures can also be stored on videotape and taken home for further study.
For Toronto businessman Allan Dew, the imaging system helped make a difficult decision easier.
At age 52, he was self-conscious about his dingy, filling-laden teeth. Previous dental work had yellowed and cracked, adding to the problem.
"1 had spent a lot of years in the dentist's chair and it was something I dreaded. I had to be sure I would open my mouth and like what I saw after it was done," says Dew, who runs a color separation business and is familiar with computer imaging technology.
He spent $12,000 to have his mouth renovated. Old fillings, crowns, and a partial plate were removed and replaced, and his lower teeth were filed and shaped.
"Everybody thinks I look just great, and while it took me about four days to get used to the new guy in the mirror, I'm really pleased," he says.
Freedman, noting "a more informed patient makes for better dentistry," also uses laser disc teaching programs in his office for patient education.
As well, he says, processing insurance claims with technology such as the Picasso phone could save time and money.
In the case of a broken tooth, for instance, an image of the tooth could be sent over the phone line to a dental adjudicator while the patient is in the chair. With an immediate go-ahead the work could be done right then.
The whole idea behind interactive technology, according to Philips, is to get information out to potential customers in the easiest most comfortable way possible.
"Here's something I really use a lot," he says, hefting a Sharp Viewcamteleport. He uses the audiovisual device - essentially a camcorder attached to a playback screen - to send pictures of a patient's teeth to the ceramic lab where porcelain veneers and crowns are made.
It streamlines the procedure for dentist, lab and patient.
"We send Images of teeth back and forth with it and I can work with the dentist when he's in the dental office and I'm in the lab," says Tom Williams of the Krest ceramic laboratory.
Philips sees a "huge market's for cosmetic dentistry which is increasingly replacing the dentist's traditional work of drilling and filling, thanks to fluoridation, better brushing, flossing and dental hygiene.
Most of his cosmetic dentistry clients, he says, are "everyday people, housewives, secretaries, business people.
"1 like to say, we used to fix your teeth, now we fix your smile."