Good news dental students: soon you will no longer have to approach your first victim patient with shaky, unsure hands. Researchers at Showa University in Japan have unveiled a new dental dummy, a realistic robot for dental students to practice on before taking the drill to real, human mouths.
For certain people, there’s one sound above all others that strikes fear into their hearts and makes them want to run screaming for sanctuary: the high-pitched whine of a dentist’s drill. Presumably dentist-phobes fear the noise because it’s associated with the rotten part of a tooth being drilled away, but experts say the noise itself triggers a strong reaction. According to ABC News:
“It’s been demonstrated that people’s blood pressures rise as soon as they hear the sound, even if they’re not sitting in the chair yet,” said Dr. Mark Wolff, professor and chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at the New York University College of Dentistry.
So how to help these unfortunate souls? Researchers have come up with an idea: cancel out the shriek of a drill to cancel out the fear. After ten years of development, dental engineers now have a prototype device ready, and they’re looking for investors to bring the invention to a dentist office near you.
Cavities could one day become a thing of the past, as new research is decoding how our mouth bacteria are able to attach their dirty little mounds of plaque to our teeth, and is suggesting ways we might be able to outsmart them.
Cavities come from bacteria that live in our mouths and digest sugars in the food we eat, producing tooth-dissolving acids. The most annoying tooth-bug is Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay. The bacteria use an enzyme called glucansucrase, which converts sugar into long sticky chains that allow the bacteria to glue themselves to the surface teeth. Once they’re in place, they can start in on the acid production.
In late November, Indian dentists set to work filling the largest cavity they have ever seen. Their patient, Devidasan the elephant, had a 20-inch-long crack in his tusk that had caused him pain for over five years, kept him from participating in festivals, and posed an infection risk.
Dentist CV Pradeep performed the unprecedented operation, which took two and a half hours to complete. The dentistry team used 47 times the amount of resin they would have used to fill a human tooth, and they modified their tools for use on the elephant’s tusk, Pradeep explained to BBC News:
“It was literally an elephantine task, because we had to find specialist equipment and modify it,” Dr Pradeep said. “The main difference between this and a similar operation carried out on humans is that we were not able to use X-ray screening, because none of our mobile X-ray units was large enough to suit the elephant’s needs.”
Devidasan was kept awake during the procedure, but the dentists report that he was fully cooperative. The dentists used the same procedure they would have for a cracked human tooth–just on a much larger scale. Pradeep told BBC News that Devidasan looked much happier after they were done with the filling. He is now fully healed and is back to participating in Hindu festivals.
This was the first elephant tusk-filling of its kind, so the dentists aren’t sure how long it will hold. They estimate it will stick for at least a few years, depending on how quickly the tusk grows.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons