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The cutting edge: How technology is shaping modern dentistry


In just 11 years of being a dentist, Peter McDonald has already seen significant changes in the industry. As technology continues to evolve, as does how teeth are cared for.

At McDonald Dentistry in East Grand Forks, Peter and his colleagues are staying on the cutting edge of these changes, providing services with technology such as the CEREC machine, a device that digitally designs and produces dental crowns.

The traditional procedure of receiving a dental crown can take anywhere from two weeks to one month, according to McDonald, and involves more than one session with a dentist. In the first session, the patient would have an impression of their tooth taken that would be sent on to a lab for the crown to be constructed and then sent back for a second session of fixing the crown to the tooth.

With the use of a CEREC machine, this process is greatly expedited.

“What (the CEREC machine) allows us to do is eliminate the impression material,” said McDonald, noting a tray of gooey material formerly used. “It allows us to take a digital impression of the tooth.”

Once the impression is taken, the crown can be immediately designed on a computer via a special software. Then, a block of porcelain is inserted in a special milling machine, and the crown is shaped based on the patient’s information programmed in by the dentist. The milling process takes about 10 minutes, according to McDonald, and the crown is ready to be fitted shortly after.

In addition to being a much quicker method of constructing the crown, McDonald noted other benefits such as eliminating the need to readminister anaesthetic to the patient—due to the single appointment— and a lesser chance of infection due to the area around the tooth being exposed for a shorter amount of time.

McDonald Dentistry’s clinic is one of many that is able to perform CAD/CAM dentistry; providing care by means of computer-aided design and manufacturing.

Beyond building crowns, other technologies are cropping up in the dental industry making processes quicker and safer.

Traditional x-ray machines, for example, are becoming a thing of the past, according to McDonald, and a digital method is becoming a standard in modern dentistry.

“It’s instantaneous, and requires less radiation for the patient, so it’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said.

Orthodontics are also seeing advancements in the methods of digitally designing braces and the precision of placing each bracket on a patient’s teeth.

Although just a handful of CEREC machines currently exist in the area, McDonald expects no dental offices to be without one in the future. As life expectancy increases among the general population, so does wear and tear on teeth and the need for dental care.

“I think we’ll end up seeing people need more crowns because people are living longer; they’re keeping their teeth longer,” said McDonald. “We do a lot more to save teeth than we did 50 years ago.”

A decade ago, McDonald did not forsee himself working with tools such as the CEREC machine, however today he would not have it any other way.

“We did fine dentistry before, but now that we have it, I would never do dentistry without it,” he said. “Once you see what it can do, you never go back.”

McDonald Dentistry is located at 1421 Central Ave NW in East Grand Forks.

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