The new age of dentistry 

Mention the words "dentist’s office" to anyone over 30 and their minds conjure up thoughts of rubber mouth guards, Novocain, and high-pitched drills on the end of mechanical arms, powered by an array of belts and cables. But most of all there is the knowledge that while the dentist inserts an arsenal of tools inside your mouth there is, at any moment, the potential for excruciating pain.

Those are increasingly antiquated images of dentistry, and far removed from Jay McKenzie’s Whistler Dental office.

Instead of the dungeon-master’s assortment of traditional instruments, in McKenzie’s office you’ll find CAD/CAM technology, digital photography replacing X-rays, and clients from around the world who plan their vacations to coincide with dental work.

"This is not a normal dental practice," says McKenzie.

No kidding.

"There’s a quantum leap here," says Dr. Paul DeMarco (yes another Dr. DeMarco, and he is related to the others in Whistler), who is in town from his Windsor dental practice to work and learn in McKenzie’s office.

"Windsor is a leading centre for dentistry and implants in Canada, but there’s nothing like this clinic in Windsor," DeMarco says.

"I do a lot of education courses, but this is the best learning environment around."

McKenzie, who began his dental career in the Canadian Armed Forces, established his Whistler clinic in 1994. He has been building a practice that utilizes the latest technology and fits with the nature of the resort. The most recent piece of hardware added to his office is a $160,000 CEREC, an instrument which can mill crowns and fillings with the aid of CAD/CAM technology.

If a patient needs a crown, for example, instead of a visit to the dentist to create an impression of a damaged tooth, sending the impression off to a lab to manufacture the crown, then a return trip to have the crown installed, the whole procedure can be done in one visit to McKenzie’s clinic.

The CEREC uses digital photography to create an extremely accurate "impression," which is shown on a computer screen. The dentist then designs the crown on the computer screen. When the dentists is satisfied, the final design is transmitted via infrared ports to a milling machine, about the size of a computer printer, in the office. The milling machine has two computerized drills which carve a precise crown from a solid block of ceramic material in about 15 minutes. Eventually McKenzie will be able to mill fillings the same way.

The procedure is more precise and takes less time than traditional crowns or fillings. It also uses more environmentally-friendly materials than traditional fillings.

Fewer than five per cent of dentists have the CEREC instrument at present. But it’s more than just technology that makes McKenzie’s a modern dental practice. Bone grafts and implants – implanting a tooth in bone, rather than replacing missing teeth with a bridge – are common procedures. It’s a convergence of oral surgery, periodontistry and dentistry.

But the high overhead in Whistler, along with the cost of technology, means McKenzie’s clinic has to be open seven days a week. It also means payment up front by patients.

That hasn’t kept patients away. In fact, some have come from as far away as Toronto, San Diego and even Australia for dental procedures.

And that’s not all that unusual in the new world of dentistry. At the Florida clinic where McKenzie trained on the CEREC system the receptionist also doubled as a travel agent for clients who came from out of town for dental care.

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