1. Diagnostic technology such as digital radiography (x-rays) will continue to become more common. Digital Panoramic and intra-oral x-ray machines will completely replace chemical films and developing. Computerized image management software will be able to store, display and enhance digital images. 3-D imaging will become more common. Instead of several intra-oral films, panoramic and cephalometric x-rays, yucky impressions for models and photographs, there may only be the need for one imaging machine or technology which can do all of the above. Computerized diagnostic software will be able to detect and identify decay and other anomalies and pathology
2. There will be continuing development of information technologies for the business and record keeping end of dentistry. As in most health businesses, physicians offices, hospitals, etc., there will be even further incentives for electronic medical records (EMC), computers in the dental office for scheduling, management of financial and patient records, and insurance claim filing. Ipads, flat screen TVs, and digital entertainment will become more common.
3. Laboratory technology, which I have often viewed as remaining in the dark ages using proven but old techniques, will transition to CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacture). This may manifest as in office or laboratory fabrication of crowns and other prostheses by computerized milling machines and digital printers. Intra-oral cameras will advance to be able to easily take virtual impressions of teeth and transmit the information for production.
If you are in doubt about the impact of robotics in medicine and dentistry, check out how wearable robotics developed by the military are helping paralyzed individuals walk:
4. Currently lasers are used for soft tissue surgery and some hard tissue preparation. A little further into the future, there may be new devices to more efficiently and simply prepare (drill) teeth for fillings, crowns and other things with more precision and less effort. Orthodontics will reduce treatment time and accomplish previously difficult tooth movements using new techniques. Perhaps even stimulation of bone remodeling to speed up tooth movement.
5. Diagnosis of at-risk patients, targeting medications to particular problems will become more sophisticated. The use of DNA techniques in diagnosis and treatment will continue to advance. A caries vaccine? -They have been talking about that one for 20 years so I do not anticipate an effective vaccine in the near term. Techniques to replace teeth with laboratory grown teeth for a patient's own DNA or tissues may become a reality. Advances in oral surgery including nanotechnology in the targeting of cancer cells will enable less traumatic and more successful treatment of these debilitating and often fatal diseases.
6. Newer techniques of anesthesia and the development of new medications will make dental care even more pleasant and comfortable. Safer and more effective sedative agents and/or advanced anesthesia techniques will enable any surgical procedure to be completed more easily for the patient and the doctor.
What might all this mean for the practicing dentist? Well, you cannot say that just because a great technique exists that it will be incorporated into daily routine practice. There are so many other things to be factored into the equation. Financial issues and/or insurance may or may not pay enough to make these technologies feasible. Patients may not be willing to cover the increased cost to use a $100,000 machine to do just a few minor procedures. I do know many of these technological advances will make dentistry more efficient. There may be a need for fewer laboratory technicians, but the ones remaining will be skilled in these new techniques. There may even be a reduced need for as many dentists as each dentist becomes able to accomplish more treatment.