Technology to watch in 2015: Are we getting closer to not needing loupes or the cords in our operatories?

Technology is an important part of our professional and personal lives. Think about how much has changed since you began your career in dental hygiene. Every year, more technological advances occur that lead to breakthroughs in science and industry. This column is devoted to highlighting some of the technological changes we can expect to see in the future that may revolutionize health care.

BY JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD

Technology is an important part of our professional and personal lives. Think about how much has changed since you began your career in dental hygiene. Every year, more technological advances occur that lead to breakthroughs in science and industry. This column is devoted to highlighting some of the technological changes we can expect to see in the future that may revolutionize health care.

A DNA-editing technique has been developed that edits genomes with unprecedented speed and ease, making multiple changes in a cell's genome with great precision. This technique - clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR - uses a single, all-purpose enzyme, Cas9, with an RNA guide to cut strands of DNA in a gene to disable or modify it by inserting a segment of engineered DNA. It is anticipated that this gene-editing technique can be used to convert HIV-infected cells into uninfected cells, thereby eradicating the disease. Other uses may be as diverse as creating therapies for Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.

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Another innovation is the use of saliva as a new renewable energy source for medical devices. Researchers in Saudi Arabia have been developing tiny devices for machines that could purify water or diagnose disease. They designed a system in which saliva, which has bacteria that produces electrons, is loaded into a highly conductive grapheme electrode to produce a microwatt. This tiny amount of power is enough for lab-on-a-chip devices, diagnostic tools, and monitoring tools such as a diabetes tracker. It is anticipated that a future use may be to generate electricity from organic factory waste to power desalination plants in poor countries.

Those of us who have passed the age of 40 may find ourselves needing corrective eyewear for reading, driving, and seeing and removing biofilm and calcified deposits in the oral cavity. Scientists are currently developing vision-correcting displays or screens that wear the glasses for you. The screen modifies a standard high-resolution smartphone or tablet screen such that images can be corrected to cancel errors in the eye, delivering what appears to be a crisp image. The screen can correct for myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and other complicated vision problems.

While future study is needed, the concept of this technology may be most beneficial for people in developing countries who have easier access to mobile devices than prescription eyewear. Imagine this screen on a dental mirror, perhaps eliminating the need for loupes.

Within two years, we may find ourselves giving up the wires and chargers. A senior paleobiology student at the University of Pennsylvania partnered with a company to develop the uBeam transmitter. This device focuses ultrasound to create a hot spot of energy. A receiver attached to an electrode device picks up that energy and converts it to electricity. Soon there may be a universal wireless-charging system that will allow mobile devices to perform energy-intensive tasks without draining a battery. This technology could revolutionize the physical world and untether us from the walls. Imagine what it would be like to not trip over all those cords in the operatory!

These innovations in technology are exciting because broad applications exist. It may take time for this type of technology to impact dental hygiene practice, but imagine a world without AIDS, or a system that helps better manage the epidemic of diabetes. Think of all the people who will have a reduced risk of injury because they have improved eyesight, or a developing country with less risk of infection because the water is purified.

Improved health and health care are within our reach thanks to the great minds that study, discover, invent, and translate knowledge into action. I don't know about you, but I already can't wait to see what the rest of this year will bring in terms of technological advances! RDH


JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, and president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

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