High-tech Doodads Diminish Dentist's Chair Nightmare

October 31, 1990|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

Right from the start, it's intimidation. You know, the imposing commercials telling you about a life full of filet mignon shakes or plastic teeth if you fail to pay these people a visit at least twice a year.

Yes, those purveyors of gloom and faux-strawberry fluoride treatments, those dentists, have been scaring all of us into increased mouth fitness for at least a couple of hundred years now.

And, as if their ability to eradicate dental cares -- cavities are just a theoretical notion to nearly half of all American children -- isn't persuasive enough, dentists are touting even more reasons to sit in the, uh, torture chair.

But, hey, guess what? Those whirring drills, terrible-tasting suction tubes and drool-inducing mouths full of cotton are fast fading into memory in many an American dental office.

Indeed, lasers, computers, television cameras, sound and other electronic doodads are becoming the order of the dental day across the country and here in Carroll County.

The State Dental Association, which represents nearly 75 percent of Maryland's 3,728 dentists, says that while some things -- like the twice-yearly gig at your local mouth doctor -- are still crucial, other facets of one of the world's most-loathed and least understood professions are rapidly changing.

For instance, your dentist is more likely to spend time making your smile shine, your gums hearty and your teeth durable than to while the day away filling cavities or removing wisdom teeth.

Some of the advancements in the $42 billion-a-year industry are quite simply mind-boggling.

* Computers that forecast what your smile could look like allow you to chart just how your teeth will end up after cosmetic surgery.

* Electronic braces that could reposition teeth in almost half the time of the old railroad tracks are in the experimental stages.

* Plastic coatings can be applied to teeth, acting as an almost impenetrable guard against cavities.

* And, in what could be a dentophobe's greatest dream come true, lasers are now being used to zap -- painlessly -- large portions of tooth decay, a process that may eventually lead to the extinction of the dreaded drill.

Even root canals are entering the pain-free -- well, maybe pain-free is stretching it a bit -- realm with the help of ultrasound.

In fact, the use of ultrasound instead of a dental version of a nail file will halve the amount of time it takes to perform the procedure, according to the American Dental Association.

All these advancements are great, you say, but what about the humiliation and discomfort and anger and apprehension that goes with a visit to the dentist's office?

Fear not, tooth warriors. The 20th century is even spreading to the dentist's chair. Some are sleek, comfortable leather jobs that are just as likely to put you to sleep as they are to keep you within arm's length of the person with the tooth probe. Some have Sony Walkman stereos for your listening pleasure. And, better still, some even have stereo speakers built in, giving you a choice of radio station, favorite tape or compact disc.

Despite the innovations, however, dentists still want to instill a little fear, lest the masses get a bit too complacent. The best advice -- even today -- remains virtually unchanged from dentistry's yesteryear: Brush twice a day, eat well, see a dentist regularly and take care of any problems quickly, recommends the State Dental Association.

Because, if you don't, all of the recent advancements -- many of them comfort-inducing -- won't do you a bit of good.

You'll more than likely have the pleasure of sipping filet mignon shakes through your plastic teeth.

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