The Waterlase cannot be used on all patients, Prather says. A drill still is required when a dentist must remove a silver filling because the procedure can cause sparks on the silver material.
Seek and destroy
Early detection and treatment technologies also are changing the way dentists practice, Prather says. He uses a kind of laser to find cavities that might not have been detected by the former "poke and probe" method.
The cavity laser works like sonar, he says. Laser light is reflected off teeth and "when there is a cavity present, that light will reflect off the tooth at a different rate," he says.
"That's been a tremendous advance - cavity detection and then cavity preparation with the laser tool," Prather says.
"We're in an age where kids don't have to be needle-phobic," says Rita Schoppert, a dental assistant in Barney's practice. "These are my favorite," she says, pointing to the laser equipment filling up a patient station. "Every day when we use this, we say, 'What did we do before the laser?'"
Dentistry goes interactive
New technology is making dentistry more of an interactive experience for patients.
Some dentists have folded digital imaging into their practices to show patients how they will look after a dental procedure.
Dr. Kenneth Barney of Hedgesville, W.Va., uses the imaging especially when discussing cosmetic dentistry with patients.
With specialized software, a dental assistant can take a picture of a patient's teeth, import the image into the digital imaging program and make changes to show how a porcelain veneer or whitening procedure would change the appearance of their smile.
Barney's wife, Laine Barney, says the digital imaging helps patients decide what is right for them when considering a cosmetic procedure.
"The better informed your patients, the better choices they can make for themselves," she says.
Dr. Richard Prather III of Dental Design Studio Inc. in Hagerstown says he's using an intraoral camera to better educate patients about what is going on in their mouth.
With the camera, "we're able to increase the size of what I see so that the patient can see the same thing," he says.
Providing the patient a clear view of what is going on in the cracks and crevices of the teeth helps the patient understand diagnoses.