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With a busy work schedule, Lillian Singleton barely has time to read a magazine, much less go to the dentist. But as a dental assistant, she knows how important it is to take care of her smile.
"Oh yes, definitely, it's very important," said Lillian
So when her dentist told her she could get a permanent crown in just one day: "I mean, it's wonderful. I tell you, time has changed," said Lillian.
Getting a new crown used to start with messy and uncomfortable impressions. Then the patient had to live with a temporary until the permanent crown was ready.
"She had some recurrent decay around an old filling," said Dr. Alan Ripps, DMD, Louisiana State University School of Dentistry.
With a new computerized system, Lillian can get a new, permanent crown in about an hour and a half. First, the tooth is prepped, then sprayed with titanium dioxide to create contrast.
"It's actually the white that they put the 'M's on M&Ms with," said Dr. Ripps.
Next, the dentist uses this tiny TV camera to take a series of images.
"It takes a three-dimensional picture, so not only giving you what we call 'x' and 'y' coordinates -- how wide and how thick it is -- it also gives you length and depth," said Dr. Ripps.
Putting the TV images together, then adding a bite record that shows how the teeth fit together, the computer designs the crown. It can be adjusted on the spot for less contact or a better bite.
"That crown should be OK," said Dr. Ripps.
The computer sends the plan to a machine that cuts and refines the custom crown in about 15 minutes.
"It's extremely accurate. It's as accurate as any other techniques we have," said Dr. Ripps.
A few final adjustments and the permanent crown goes in. One new crown, one very happy patient.
"Oh my god, it's great," said Lillian.
The system that makes the same-day crowns costs about $150,000 -- and because it's so expensive, researchers say it may be a while before it's in use all over the country.
Cost for the crowns is about the same as the conventional variety and they are generally covered by insurance.