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A NEW DIMENSION to your smile



When we think about technology in three dimensions, the first thing that probably comes to mind is 3-D movies. Sitting in the theater, wearing those cool glasses, you feel like you are part of the movie, not just watching it. And as unbelievable as it may sound, the first 3-D movie was in 1922, over 101 years ago.

In real life, of course, we see everything in three dimensions – height, width, and depth. But when we read printed matter or watch TV or non-3-D movies, the images are flat. We cannot see the third dimension, which is depth perception. So, while it may have taken a century, the 3-D revolution is here and is being utilized in numerous businesses such as architecture, interior design, and fashion design, all made possible by the advent of 3-D printing.

During the past decade, 3-D imaging has been increasingly utilized in the field of dentistry. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), images from intraoral optical scanners (IOS) and cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), can be uploaded to 3-D software, giving a view of a patient’s teeth exactly as they look when a dentist says, “open wide,” and peers into your mouth. X-rays, in comparison, provideonly a two-dimensional flat image.

As patients, we really don’t have to understand how 3-D imaging works. It sounds like science fiction, and describing the process might as well be like learning a foreign language. What is important is that the technology can be used by dentists to better diagnose and treat a multitude of issues, from cavities to root canals, implants, extractions, orthodontics, bone loss, and sleep apnea. It can help a dentist better treat temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), when the jaw doesn’t open and close correctly, often resulting in pain, headaches, tooth and earaches, and even Tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears.

3-D imaging now allows for fitting and attaching a crown or bridge in one visit.

A dentist takes a scan of the patient’s mouth and then designs the crown or bridge using 3-D software so that it will perfectly match the patient’s bite. The resin used for the crown is poured into the tray of a 3-D printer, and about 15 minutes later, a crown is produced. The crown is washed and dried in a special unit and then cured under ultra-violet light.

The dentist then refines the crown with hand tools before attaching it to the patient’s mouth with the standard adhesive that has always been used. The crown or bridge can be brushed and polished just like the ones made the old-fashioned way. Instead of two weeks, a patient can have a new crown fitting perfectly in less than an hour.

We know how dental technicians usually take X-rays. They use an X-ray holder for the film that fits uncomfortably in every part of your mouth and exposes the patient to a couple of seconds of

radiation with each X-ray. That is why patients have a protective vest placed on their chests. In 3-D imaging, a patient either lies back in the chair or sits upright with their jaw on a chin rest while the scanner rotates around the head, taking hundreds of images. There is a slight amount of radiation, but a good deal less than when a patient has traditional X-rays. It is non-invasive, which makes it much more comfortable than having a full-mouth series of X-rays with a film holder. And if you are wondering, no one is wearing 3-D glasses.

The result is that a dentist has a more complete and accurate view of the patient’s mouth and can identify potential issues before they surface. Let’s face it; it is not easy for a dentist to have a great view of the back of a patient’s mouth during an exam. While experts say there will be a learning curve as dentistry evolves fully into 3-D imaging, the results should make visiting the dentist a little more pleasant.


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