By Nathan Dries
Clients and readers of this site know that we value the medical and dental fields and those who work in them. As followers of and commentators on technology, we look for the intersections of medicine and new technologies, and how this intersection is bettering people’s lives, both in Virginia (the location of the co-author’s practice), and across the U.S.
Early detection of health problems is an important benefit of medical technology. Dentists detect many issues earlier than many people may think, and one gadget that helps them in this task is a Perioscope. This is a device designed to explore the area underneath the periodontal pocket, or just under the gums below the teeth. Any periodontal disease present on the surface of a tooth can be seen by a visualization produced by this device.
Cracks in the enamel, areas of decay, patches of plaque which are present due to bacterial deposits- all of these can be seen during a routine treatment. The hygienist or dentist can then treat the patient’s periodontitis (presence of bacteria on the root of a tooth), or any other injuries to the root such as breaks. In the case of cracks, oral surgery may be required to fix them.
Such a device allows for early detection because the dentist can catch and interrupt the course of a problem early on, and without the use of more invasive techniques. In addition, visualizing the surface of the root prior to surgery allows the dentist or surgeon to prepare more thoroughly for the procedures required, thus making these procedures more effective.
The following video offers an example of this device in action, along with a primer on its use:
Another example of dental medicine benefiting from technology is in cavity detection– new technology allows dentists to discern smaller cavities, earlier. Many people find out they have cavities during a routine use of a Perioscope at their dentist’s office.
Surgeries come with their own set of potential complications, so devices such as the one described here, which allow for a decrease in the use of surgery without sacrificing effectiveness, offer an obvious benefit.
In addition, technologies like the Perioscope improve the accuracy of a clinician’s diagnosis; this leads to treatments which are more likely to improve the outcomes for patients.
Despite the gains described above, surgery is very likely still required if periodontal disease is present- a Perioscope will only allow for early detection before the problem becomes less manageable.
There is another recent innovation on the early detection of periodontal disease: one that uses a saliva test. Up to now, we have described dental inspections of teeth and gums, and the use of a Perioscope, that dentists use to detect periodontal disease. Now, dentists have a saliva test which analyzes a particular enzyme in saliva known to give a hint as to the presence of periodontal disease, as well as how severe it has become. The test accomplishes this in a non-invasive way that researches have shown to be accurate.
Since periodontitis may lead to such problems as stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and infections of the respiratory system, early detection of this issue, and the recent technological advances described above, are leading to better outcomes for patients at risk for the disease. One clinician that exemplifies the use of such methods is the office of Dr. Peterson Huang, a Falls Church dentist. The advanced techniques he and his staff use for early detection have allowed for positive outcomes for dozens of his patients. We thank him for his help in the preparation of this article.