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"Rinse and Spit" Takes On New Meaning in Dental Office of Future

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – It sounds like science fiction, but to treat the merest trace of a cavity, your dentist may someday have you rinse with a solution containing millions of microscopic machines called "nanoassemblers." These minute workers, receiving signals from a computer controlled by the dentist, will swarm to the areas of your mouth where cavities are beginning to form, eliminate both the decay and the bacteria causing the cavity, and then repair the area by building new tooth structure one atom or molecule at a time-with no drilling and filling required! When the procedure is complete, the dentist has the patient rinse again to spit out the tiny machines.

Nanotechnology ("nano" is derived from the Greek word for dwarf) will eventually offer humans the means to manipulate matter atom by atom. A typical nanoassembler will be eight times smaller than the nucleus of a cell. According to National Science Foundation estimates, the United States will need 800,000 to 1 million nanotechnology workers within the next 10-15 years. A growing field called "nanomedicine" will revolutionize how dentists and physicians diagnose and treat disease and injury.

Although commercial and health care applications of nanotechnology are years away, Titus Schleyer, D.M.D., Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Center for Dental Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine, offered a peek into the dental office of the future during "Tech Day" here at the American Dental Association's (ADA) 143rd Annual Session.

Dr. Schleyer points out that 85 percent of dentists have a computer in their office, according to a 2000 ADA survey. Today, most dentists use computers for scheduling, billing and generating form letters, yet a growing number of dentists use computers for maintaining clinical records and diagnosing and monitoring patient treatment, he says.

"In the future, dentists will be much more high tech than we are now," Dr. Schleyer predicts. "Today, we're in a mix of paper and computer use, and many dental procedures are performed hands on by the dentist. In 20-25 years, with the use of nanotechnology, dentists will have the ability to influence oral health on a molecular and atomic level. But," Dr. Schleyer smiles, "We'll still say rinse and spit.'" [ Printer-friendly page Printer-friendly page ]
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