New developments for dentistry have kept coming since the 1950s but it hasn’t been that way for dental hygiene – until recently. Finally, technology is making its way into the operatory, providing changes that are exciting and dramatic, particularly in diagnostics and therapy.

Automated probes are not new but hygienists found older versions were bulky, time consuming to use, no more reliable than manual probing and painful for the patients. New technology combines automatic and manual probing with new materials, such as plastics, that are easier for the hygienist to use and more comfortable for the patient than metal probes.

These probes can measure sulfur compounds in tooth-surrounding gingival tissue or on the tongue, indicating possible disease activity to the hygienist. Early detection can prevent gingival attachment loss, where teeth begin to lose support from connective tissues and may become loose or bleeding could occur.

Sulphides anywhere in the mouth are a leading cause of bad breath, often the motivator to get a patient into the hygienist. Sometimes though, patients are more concerned about bad breath than about preventing gum disease. The new probes help the hygienist to make the patient aware that his or her breath problem is being caused by periodontal disease.

Endoscopy – tiny cameras that can be attached to probes or scalers – has arrived. Now hygienists can explore a deep pocket to learn why an area isn’t healing as they believe it should, without having to make an educated guess as to what’s going on. They can actually see the problem, as can the patient.

Fiber optics and camera combine to provide an on-screen display that can be as much as 40 times actual size. When the patient sees and understands the problem, it’s much easier for the hygienist to recommend the appropriate treatment and schedule it in. It also makes the case for preventive measures much easier.

Periodontal disease is preventable and treatable if identified at early stages and managed effectively. Many patients respond very well to nonsurgical and surgical periodontal treatment but what about those who don’t or respond for a while and then stop?

New technology allows for DNA-bacterial and genetic testing. Treatment outcomes can be improved by targeting types of bacteria present and proper antibiotics necessary. Identifying genetic risks can help guide therapies too. The tests are simple to administer and only require saliva samples. But the big news here is that patients can be tested for disease quickly, allowing for better treatment options and outcomes.

Dental lasers are now being used as well for periodontal therapy by dental hygienists, providing less invasive and painful but very effective treatment to soft tissues. Lasers are also instrumental in the detection of dental caries – areas where teeth are losing mineral content, often characterized by a white spot on the tooth – without the use of x-rays. With such early detection, remineralizing agents can be employed more effectively.

Ozone therapy is also gaining use in Canada with regard to dental caries. High concentrations of ozone kill bacteria in teeth. In conjunction with lasers, decay and demineralized areas are located and a suction cup then delivers ozone directly to the area. Once the bacteria are killed, the tooth can be healed with remineralization.

There are several new testing procedures available for oral cancer screening, an increasingly important procedure in dental hygiene, due to the spread of HPV. Such tests can reveal the presence and type of HPV, regardless of visual signs or symptoms with the outcome that lives will be saved.

Advances in the reduction of patient anxiety have been made too. Devices are now available to create deep relaxation without the use of drugs for sedation. Instead, these technologies work with brain receptors that utilize natural chemicals the brain produces to completely relax the patient. Patients report a sense of rejuvenation, no side effects or needed recovery time.

Last, dental equipment for the professional has made dramatic improvement in ergonomics. Custom fitted chairs are available as well as devices that aid in maintaining proper posture, hugely important to career longevity and disability prevention.

These are just a few examples and leave little doubt that such developments are exciting and helpful to patients and hygienists. Patients who want more information can make inquiries as to availability to their hygienists, while current dental hygienist students can quiz their teaching professionals as to what they can expect to be able to use upon graduation.