5 things that have changed in dentistry (for the better)

Dental crowns

When you work in an industry every day, it can sometimes seem like it evolves slowly.  It's only when you look back over a period of time that you see just how far it has come.  Including study, I've spent nearly 20 years in dentistry and have seen it change a lot and mostly for the better.  Some of these changes are obvious and I'm not going to dwell on them too much.  For instance, as an industry I think we're a LOT nicer.  Most dentists I know make a massive effort on a day-to-day basis to be as understanding, caring and gentle as they can and to communicate treatment concepts clearly.  The evolution of implants has changed the way we replace missing teeth and we can be very subtle in the ways that we move teeth with systems such as Invisalign. 

In this article, we outline 5 ways that dentistry has changed that may be less obvious at first glance but are perhaps equally as significant:

1. Gum disease

The way that we now diagnose and treat gum disease is vastly superior.  Interestingly, we've always had the ability to diagnose gum disease and it's not particularly difficult, it's just that many practicing dentists simply never bothered to do it.  In the past, much more of dental practice focused on 'filling holes' and 'fixing broken teeth'.  Teeth were seen as fortunate to survive into later life and if they did, then losing them from gum disease had a sense of inevitability.  Increasingly, patients now expect their teeth to last throughout life and this has driven a focus on preventing and treating gum disease. Gum disease is often insidious and damage can accumulate over time. In the past, we’ve seen many patients that have attended dentists regularly but have lost teeth from undiagnosed gum disease.

2. Survival of teeth

Dental amalgam removal

All our treatment decisions now should ideally have a very long term view.  Rather than just attaching a filling or a crown to a tooth and trying to get it to last for as long as possible, our philosophies are now focused on what will happen next.  We like to make sure that if (or when) our treatments fail, teeth are not lost but are able to be repaired again.  We now try to prepare teeth much less aggressively than in the past and use adhesive technologies instead where possible.  We are all expecting to live longer and providing aggressive treatments that will ultimately fail irreparably are no longer ideal.

3. X-rays

The use of digital x-rays has meant that we can take higher quality images with just a fraction of the radiation dose.  Dental x-rays have always involved only low radiation doses when compared to most taken for medical purposes but this has been greatly reduced further with digital technologies.  Along with this, the ability to clarify, share and store images long-term has made digital x-rays indispensable.  Although some practices adopt new technologies faster than others (and that's OK), not using digital technologies for dental x-rays in 2018 is difficult to justify.  Other advances in three-dimensional imaging are continuing to change the way that we plan more complex treatments such as implants and orthodontics.

4. Magnification and precision

Dental magnification

Despite what some might say, the technical quality of dental treatment has generally improved significantly.  The standards of care continue to evolve but what was once seen as 'acceptable' in many areas is no longer the case.  Magnification, equipment and new technologies have driven much higher standards in dentistry.

5. Materials

We've seen a range of wonderful new dental materials evolve.  Some of these are incredibly durable, some extremely aesthetic and some much more kind to the sensitive areas inside the mouth.  We now have a range of 'smart' materials at our disposal as opposed to simply considering 'white' or 'silver' colored filling materials.  Being able to use powerful adhesives to bond materials to teeth is perhaps the greatest change we've seen as this has allowed us to be much more conservative in the way that we treat teeth.  Preparing slots in teeth to make things stay, using destructive pins and posts have all become much less common.


Whilst 3D printing, computer aided design and laser milling are all much more exciting technologies which are now used in our industry, the above represent some very real and tangible improvements in dental care over the last two decades. Although all dentists adopt new technologies and philosophies at different rates (and not all new technologies and ideas turn out to be a great as they first seem), all of us involved in healthcare should always to be looking to improve the way that we do things and to leave the ‘bad old days’ behind.

Dr. Aaron Martin is a registered dentist and principal dentist at Dentists of Alphington.  The above information is broad in nature and should not be considered as a substitute for professional advice which should be tailored to an individual.  Read more about dentistry at our practice or about our services.