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The Future Of Dentistry

A Sneak Preview Of Your Dental Future

By Dr. Harold Slavkin


A representation of a strand of DNA material.
“Imagine a medical device that travels through the human body to seek out and destroy small clusters of cancerous cells before they can spread, or a box no larger than a sugar cube that contains the entire contents of the Library of Congress, or materials much lighter than steel that possess ten times as much strength.”
U.S. National Science Foundation

Nanotechnology — What The Future Will Be Made From

A nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter or numerically expressed as 1,000,000,000th of a meter. Nanotechnology is a branch of science that focuses on the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. The U.S. definition of nanotechnology includes anything smaller than 100 nanometers. Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from new approaches in manufacturing related to assembling molecules in the nanoscale to developing entirely new materials. Eric Drexler popularized the word nanotechnology and the engineering of functional systems at that molecular scale.

300 Million Mouths

Today's dentists and their teams — dental assistants, dental hygienists and dental technologists — are prepared to offer sophisticated solutions for diseases and disorders as well as enhancements for aesthetics and function. Arguably, American dentistry is the best in the world, yet it does not reach all of our citizens. While the U.S. population has topped 300 million, 110 million people do not have dental insurance. Nearly a third of the total population does not have access to available dental care for a variety of reasons that include finances, education, cultural issues and core values.

Within the underserved populations, poor children under age five and mature adults over 65 are highly vulnerable to chronic oral and systemic diseases and disorders. This is particularly distressing when you consider that more than 20% of children under age five are below the poverty line.

The number one chronic disease of childhood is tooth decay, which significantly inhibits school readiness and school attendance. Lack of access to quality care also results in periodontal disease, oral cancer and chronic facial pain. Other concerns are patterns of edentulous (toothless) people in America, early childhood caries (tooth decay), low-birth-weight premature babies and periodontal (gum) disease of the pregnant mother.

Improved Models Of Healthcare For All — Behavior Change

Who will provide comprehensive care for these vulnerable subpopulations? Is there an implied “social contract” between the dental profession and the larger society? Should oral healthcare be treated as a commodity or an integral part of overall healthcare? These are pressing questions yet to be answered.

Ultimately, our future is all about our children. Becoming an oral health professional is more complex, more intellectually demanding, and more technique-sensitive than during the 20th Century. Today, the content or curriculum of dental education includes the range of themes and topics that extend from conception through hospice care. In addition, educators emphasize that we wish to enable our learning students to know the “thinking” as well as the applications. We are advocates of science as well as technology. Today, human psychology and other human behavioral sciences are part of becoming a dentist, physician, pharmacist, nurse or allied health professional. Today, understanding “the other,” or how to manage cultural diversity, has become an imperative for all the health professions of tomorrow.

We need to develop models that will provide oral health to all people. As citizens, we all want to optimize the health and education of our nation starting with our children. Depending upon our national, state, city, and personal oral health policy decisions, we could easily engage significantly more well-educated health professionals and public policy experts to improve the oral health of all Americans.

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