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Plasma Needle to Replace Dentist's Drill 169

dylanduck writes "From the New Scientist Tech article: "Sticking a needle with a flaming plasma tip into your mouth may not at first strike you as much of an improvement on conventional dentistry. However, the plasma needle, which is cold and painless to the touch, could be just the panacea we have been waiting for.""
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Plasma Needle to Replace Dentist's Drill

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  • by sisukapalli1 ( 471175 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:04AM (#15649729)
    It seems that the other promising uses such as killing cancerous cells, triggering programmed cell death, etc., are described as "surgery without the needle".

  • by Mayhem178 ( 920970 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:05AM (#15649735)
    To me, it seems like the pain involved with getting cavities filled is due to the high frequency vibrations caused by the drill, not the actual drilling itself. While I have my reservations about having a plasma tip stuck into my mouth, I guess I'd be willing to give it a go.

    Of course, I don't plan on having any more cavities, so...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      To me, it seems like the pain involved with getting cavities filled is due to the high frequency vibrations caused by the drill, not the actual drilling itself.

      Drilling doesn't hit any nerves. As I understand it, the heat caused by drilling is what triggers pain receptors in the pulp. If you want to say that this heat is due to "vibrations" rather than "the actual drilling" (whatever that means), then fine. Either way, if this "plasma needle" doesn't heat up the tooth, it should be painless, which is the
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:46AM (#15649969)
      "Of course, I don't plan on having any more cavities, so..."

      I do. I plan on having like 80 cavities before they just rip out my teeth and put in dentures.

      "Go easy on the soda", fark you Mr. Dentist man. You go easy on controlling my life.
    • The sound and smell of the drilling alone is enough to make me cringe. I had a lousy dentist as a kid who would drill without any painkillers (I didn't know you could ask for them either). I remember digging my fingernails into the chair the whole time.
      • There used to be a group of dentistry (and probably still is) that believed in not using painkillers when filling cavities, especially with children, so they'd learn to brush better and not get any cavities. That, or the dental schools pre-screened for sadists.
      • I had a similar experience as a child and it frightened me away from the dentist for a long time. I finially found a dentist that uses great nerve blockers so I was able to get the issues I had at the time taken care of. Tragically, because of the amount of time I spent not having my teeth cleaned etc. I have *major* dental problems that'll probably end up forcing me to get the rest of my teeth replaced with crowns (I'm well on my way as it is...)

        On a positive note, I've got so much porcelain in my mouth
    • The only thing that bothers me about dentists drills is when they slip up while sawing some thooth in half and the drill-bit digs into my gums. That said the vibrations of the dentists drill don't bother me half as much as what happenes when he/she is finished drilling. With only millimeters of tooth seperating the nerve from the open air the dentist then proceeds to thoroughly wash the hole that he/she just drilled with ICE COLD water. I understand the dentist has to wash the dust out of the teeth, but ser
      • Can't say I've ever experienced that. The water my dentists uses is always at room temperature. Of course, that is still considerably colder than body temperature, I suppose.
      • they slip up while sawing some thooth in half and the drill-bit digs into my gums.

        the dentist then proceeds to thoroughly wash the hole that he/she just drilled with ICE COLD water.

        Doctors are seriously blind to patient comfort.

        Um, maybe you just go to the wrong doctors? Dentists that end up sticking a drill into your gums? Do you get your dental work done at a bombed-out basement in Beirut?
        • Do you get your dental work done at a bombed-out basement in Beirut?

          Beirut?!?! No, the last time my dentist sawed into my gums was when I had a tooth capped and the guy had to drill down below the level of the flesh surrounding the tooth. Apparently it is quite hard to keep the drill from slipping during such a procedure the same goes for removal of the rearmost molars which I also had to have done since they had insufficient room to grow out of the jaw bone and the pressure was about to cause the teeth in
      • Have you ever seen Hostel? The reason that doesn't work in real life is that all the potential customers find it cheaper to go into dentistry.
    • by kwshank ( 986586 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:34PM (#15650737)
      I'm a dentist, so I thought I might be able to help out with a couple areas of the discussion. First of all, there's a slight problem with the article. The plasma needle they talk about won't work on a's just not possible. The outer layer of your teeth (the enamel) doesn't have any live cells in it (the formative cells die off just before the teeth erupt)...'inducing cell death' doesn't work if there are no live cells present. (The cells that are alive in the tooth are on the outer edge of the pulp, the third layer down, so you have to get through the hard mineralized outer surface first) So this won't replace the drill, but could theoretically replace current electrocautery methods for doing biopsies. With regards to what's causing the pain when you're getting a tooth filled - If you're experiencing pain when you're getting a filling put in, then your dentist hasn't numbed you up properly. Once you get through that outer layer of enamel, you reach the dentin. The dentin has little tubes running through it that go down to the pulp. When the ends of those tubes are opened up and exposed, the fluid in those tubes shifts and triggers nerve endings in the pulp which your brain interprets as pain (slightly simplified explanation). If you've been anesthetised properly, you shouldn't feel any pain. Anything else I can help with? Let me know. If I've talked above or below your head, my apologies...trying to make sure it's 'understandable' to all.
      • Plasma torches are used for cutting metal. I have a lot of metal in my teeth (not like jaws though).
        I wonder what would happen if plasma was used to remove or clean up an amalgum filling. Might I expect the release of mercury vapour?

        Why is it that in the 21st century, lead for solder is being legislated against and yet dental surgeries insist on using mercury for fillings. I don't understand.

        Why are implants made with metal screws being drilled in to the jawbone? What happens if a tooth is punched out? Coul
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I am a PhD student in the Eindhoven group that developed the needle, although my research is on novel ultra-compact plasma accelerators. The needle definately has an impact on living cells-sometimes it causes detachment, sometimes it causes apoptosis, and sometimes it promotes growth. They don't really know what is causing this. It's probably not UV radiation. The best bet is probably not NO2, but singlet oxygen, a rather stable, excited oxygen state.

        At the moment, the plasma side of the story is fairly wel

    • While I have my reservations about having a plasma tip stuck into my mouth, I guess I'd be willing to give it a go.

      See, I told you that Mayhem178 was a dirty slut!

  • Incomplete Summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinoflight ( 517245 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:06AM (#15649740) Homepage Journal
    This "plasma needle" apparently will be good at killing bacteria and surgical cuts. It does use Nitric Oxide to function however, which is poisonous to inhale.
    • by falcon5768 ( 629591 ) <Falcon5768@comca ... t minus language> on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:13AM (#15649787) Journal
      They dont seem too worried about that, so either its a microscopic amount, or it completely burns it all at the tip.
    • by Mayhem178 ( 920970 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:19AM (#15649822)
      I think the real problem would be with nitrogen dioxide (NO2, as opposed to nitrous oxide, N20, which would actually be preferable!). Nitric oxide is very volatile; it'll react with oxygen in the air almost immediately.

      2NO + O2 = 2NO2

      It's been a while since chemistry, but I think that's right.
      • That's correct, but as the aritcle states they are using nitric oxide (NO I think), which although has its health benefits (mostly cardio-related), does become toxic when bonded with Oxygen. It wouldn't be very nice to have a plasma needle break while your teeth are being worked on and have it shooting poisonous gas in your mouth instead of the tip of the needle.
        • Indeed, nitrogen dioxide isn't any better than straight up nitric oxide.

          It's too bad they can't make nitrous oxide out of it. THAT could get fun.
        • Let me clarify: It wouldn't be very nice to have a plasma needle break while your teeth are being worked on
          There is no actual needle being used here, you are forcing high frequency voltage down a piece of tungsten ( the positive ) and it is bridging a small gap to a negtively charged ring clip. this then ionises the air around the arc, then you use a high pressure gas to blow the ionised air down a guidance tube and out of the guidance tip. the "needle" they refer to is the tiny plasma point that comes
    • by lagfest ( 959022 )
      "Nothing is poison and everything is poison; the difference is in the dose." - Paracelsus
    • It does use Nitric Oxide to function however, which is poisonous to inhale.
      Note to self: Do not sniff the plasma needle.
  • by vishbar ( 862440 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:06AM (#15649741)
    I was scared to go to the dentist BEFORE they had lightsabers...
    • I was scared to go to the dentist BEFORE they had lightsabers...
      So I'm not the only one having horrible visions of a dentist standing over me, sweat forming on his brow, voice low and panicky. "Okay, it's just like Master Yoda said... do or do try... no try... no whammy..."
  • Hasta la Vista (Score:5, Insightful)

    by David Off ( 101038 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:07AM (#15649745) Homepage
    Lets hope the power control software isn't buggy and doesn't run on Windows (okay okay I'm karma whoring now!). I would hate to have my head blown off by a dentist sporting a phased plasma drill in the 40 watt range. Sounds far fetched but Canada's Therac-25 radiation therapy machine [] zapped some cancer sufferers killing three. I seem to recall there was a similar failure with a laser surgery machine in France which blinded some people but I couldn't find a reference, the French probably covered it up.
    • As someone who works in dental IT I can almost guarantee it runs on Windows :(
    • The Therac-25 is a textbook case about why it's important to have good software. There were many things that went wrong with that (and it didn't run on windows. :P). Programmer error, user error, and cost cutting.
    • Lets hope the power control software isn't buggy and doesn't run on Windows (okay okay I'm karma whoring now!).

      You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the hardware industry works these days. To reduce costs, any microprocessing is offloaded to device drivers via USB, and the system implementation is universally on Windows. Expect to hear the XP ditty playing in the background as your dentists tells you to open wide and begins discussing the price.
    • There was an earlier case where a researcher was exposed to excessive levels of gamma-frequency radiation for an extended period. He suffered severe anger-management issues after the exposure, massive hypertrophy of his musculature, and an odd discoloration that gave sort of a greenish cast to his skin. I don't remember if he was ever successfully treated or not, although there were several reports of domestic violence.
  • Mmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by govtpiggy ( 978532 )
    The worst part of having my mouth operated on was the taste of burning flesh from the laser's cauterizing sticking around for days. This makes me wonder if something like this plasma needle could forego the one side effect that isn't easily averted with things like painkillers.
  • Fear... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:16AM (#15649800)
    Actually, the thing most people fear about the dentist is needles-in-the-mouth. They're an uncomfortable and sometimes shockingly painful experience (depending on the dentist and the location of the injection), and it's the act of deliberately subjecting yourself to pain that gets a lot of people worked up. All the other fears tend to be associative.
    Root-canal and other invasive surgery notwithstanding (and I'm going through a lot of that right now, thank you very much), if this technology can allow minor surgery - fillings, mainly - to be undertaken without needles, I daresay it'll be a brilliant breakthrough. If the patient feels confident they are not going to feel pain, they won't be (as) afraid.

    That being said, my latest dentist is a sodding genius, who managed to perform a re-root-treatment without anaesthetic, and without pain, within an hour.
    • Needles do suck, but so do drills. I know the sound and vibration are psychological disasters for a lot of people.

      I recently had some weird issue and my dad (a dentist) used a laser instead of a drill. While you still need topical or local anaesthetic, there is no vibration or high pitched screeches - just a fast clicking noise. Another plus is you can have gum burnt away with a laser instead of watching a scalpel go into your mouth (and the pain afterward of waiting for cuts to heal).

      Apparently for many
    • I partly agree with you, but I've had quite a few cavities done without anaesthetic (because I preferred getting out of the dentists' chair quicker...), and these days I definitively prefer the needle...

      That's despite the fact that I once had to endure a dentist setting 6 shots in my front gums because the first 5 had no noticeable effect. With an added break halfway through because she had to switch to another type to avoid risk of overdose...

  • by Vengeance ( 46019 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:18AM (#15649811)
    Is it safe?

    *turns on plasma needle*

    Is... it... safe?
  • Obi-wan: "Use the force Luke"

    Luke: "Really? Cause I was just gonna.."

    Obi-wan: "Use..use the force. Just use the force."

    Luke: "Well alright."

    Lady sitting in chair with lightsaber sticking through her head: "AAAAAHHHHH!"
  • FTFS: Sticking a needle with a flaming plasma tip into your mouth

    Sounds like it's time for a new hi-tech remake of the Marathon Man [] (1977).
  • by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <> on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:25AM (#15649852) Homepage Journal
    Will it still have that "WHIIIIIRRRRR" sound?

    That is most likely the number one most feared sound in America. Not a police siren. Not a gun shot. Not a cry of pain. The dentist's drill.

    As a kid, there was nothing like that sound to make me remember to brush my teeth (well, for a few days, at least.)

    Even as an adult, the sound makes me cringe whenever I go to the dentist (which, granted, hasn't been for a few years :).
    • Just reading this comment sent a chill up my spine.

      God I hate going to the dentist...and I think I'm about due for another check-up.*sigh*
  • Dental Sandblasting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dareth ( 47614 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:26AM (#15649860)
    I recently had a minor cavity "sandblasted" out and filled with no anathesia or shots.

    Only took a brief moment and was quite painless. Sitting in the chair for 10 minutes prior listening to the machine run a pump to keep the pressure level was the worst part. It ran in cycles of air compressor running, then listening to air "leaking" out, then running again.

    I think that could replace water torture if used for an extended period.
    • Sitting in the chair for 10 minutes prior listening to the machine run a pump to keep the pressure level was the worst part. It ran in cycles of air compressor running, then listening to air "leaking" out, then running again.

      I asked my dentist about his compressor once.
      He keeps it in the basement (the office is in what used to be a 1-story home) and it pressurizes a large dump tank. Everything gets connected to this tank (through a regulator) so that there's never any kinds of wonky pressure fluctuations.


  • by nighty5 ( 615965 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:28AM (#15649871)
    Two close in-laws have had major dental problems, and have avoided it for years, decades even.

    One of them got to a point where she couldnt eat properly, and was FORCED to goto the dentist.

    I don't know what was worse, the pain she experienced from remediation work required, or the dental bill - (around AUS $18,000).

    Major reconstructive surgery could of been avoided if she went when her problems first arose.

    So heres a lesson kids - when you need to go, GO!

    • In your perfect world, your solution is the cure. For all those with an irrational fear of dentist (myself included), going to the dentist is not an option. Note that I know that the dentist isn't that bad... It is an *irrational* fear, which is often not understood by those who hasn't experienced it.
    • this just means dentists are too fucking greedy.
    • See I don't really have a problem with dental work (with the exception of the needle at the beginning since dentists around here don't use N2O, I hate needles). The only reason I don't go to a dentist is because I've yet to find one that isn't a complete prick. Last time I went to the dentist I was 18 and he talked to me like I was 6. I mean come on, my doctor is one of the nicest people I know. Dentists do nothing but chastise people, at least every single one I've been to. I mean come the fuck on, I know
      • Dunno. Since dentists have delegated the primary mouth-care to the hygienist, the hygienist gets to be the bad cop (Remember when hygienists were all young and cute and female? I guess they are all female even though there are now many men flight attendants and even a good number of men nurses. But they have got older and more school-marmish.). The dentist is the good cop, swoops into the room after the hygienist has rinsed all of the blood off your gums, the dentist comes in, probes your old fillings w
  • by blcamp ( 211756 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:36AM (#15649914) Homepage

    It's the DENTIST.

    It's a NEEDLE.

    It's not normal to have needles stuck into your MOUTH.

    Therefore... it's still going to friggin' HURT.

    • For me, the needles are the least worrying bit. When I was a kid I had some fillings done but always shut my eyes when they did "the deed". My sneaky dentist wiped some low strength anaesthetic on my gums always and I thought that was it - my eyes were always closed during the injection, so I never actually knew I was getting the needle - I didn't notice pain except a tiny cold touch.

      Years later, I had a little dental work done and this time I opened my eyes just as the needle was coming out, also not havin
    • I dont get why everyones so afraid of the dentist. Do the dentists in america like try and hurt you or something? It seems to be a common theme here with one person even syaing that the drill is the most ominous fearful sound in america. Perhaps its because ive never had a cavity, but the worst thing i ever had a dentist do to me was make me bite down onto those stupid floride cups that taste like shit. Ive had my wisdom teeth removed and that didnt hurt at all - even a few hours after when the anesthetic w
    • You know, there has been some slight improvements in dentistry over the last few decades. My grandfather used to tell us how he got a couple of teeth drilled with a foot operated drill with no drugs when he was young.

      These days there's no excuse for it to hurt or be unpleasant. I used to go to a dentist that would give me nitrous oxide ("happy gas" - expensive, but worth it for more extensive dental work), dark glasses and headphones in addition to painkillers. The nitrous oxide made me care absolutely no

    • [Anecdote]

      I had an infection in my tonsils... bacterial, who knows where from, which swelled them up until I couldn't eat and had to breathe through my nose.

      The solution to this problem was to lance it with a needle and then take anti-biotics, since the prescription I tried first didn't do a damn thing.

      This wasn't a single prick... this was 10 to 15 jabs straight into the back of my throat with a very long needle, first with anaesthetics to numb the areas, probably 4-5 of those... then a bunch of 'sti

  • key factor (Score:4, Funny)

    by bitt3n ( 941736 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @10:57AM (#15650037)
    sure the plasma needle sounds better than the drill *in principle*, but the article fails to mention key factors, namely: what's the reload time and how much ammo can you carry?
  • When I was a kid, the dentist's drill was going to be replaced by git and ultrasound. Then it was going to be a laser... Sorta like flying cars or fiber-to-the-curb.
  • At press time, Earthworm Jim [] was unavailable for comment.

  • the plasma needle, which is cold and painless to the touch
    If you have bad teeth, cold is the last thing you want in your mouth!
  • "Good news, Everyone! I eventually fitted a plasma torch on a dentist needle! Now, everyone help me find my pants".

    Everything went downhill from there...

  • When I go to the dentist, it's not really the tools that are my issue, but how careful the dentist will be.

    Will it be a young woman recently having left studies to a dentist (= good, and not just for possibly her looks), or an old cold hearted, careless person. And I'm not sure if a careless user of a plasma needle sounds much more comfortable! O_o
  • More Info, With Pics (Score:4, Informative)

    by MrCopilot ( 871878 ) on Monday July 03, 2006 @11:35AM (#15650301) Homepage Journal T-link-main.htm [] le []

    Ok, so its not slicing through his fingers but it's a step right.

  • Better idea. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PatTheGreat ( 956344 )
    One of the articles linked above says that the needle only temporarily seperates cells. So wouldn't it be great for microsurgery that heals even better? You could make a "cut" with the plasma needle, and then when you extracted it, the cells would glue back together like nothing happened.
  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Monday July 03, 2006 @11:57AM (#15650480) Homepage Journal
    My last trip to the dentist involved driling and excising my 3rd right molar from my upper set of teeth. Needles don't bother me (hell I count how many times they have to poke and inject me just to gauge how much of a tolerance I've built up to such anesthetics,) nor does having to suck gas or hearing the whine of the drill. What does bother me, is that my teeth, even when decaying, are rather strong. The drill bit broke in my mouth without the dentist realizing it. She went right on ahead with a broken drill in my mouth to remove my tooth. A week later, while in Texas on vacation, I take a drag off of a cigarette, and something moves around in the cavity where the tooth once existed. A little fishing around with my tongue in the hole, and out comes the broken drillbit. Do you knwo what those things look like under a microscope? Imagine an allen wrench - now grab both ends and twist until it spirals. Sharpen the edges, THEN SERRATE them. That is what these drill bits look like.

    Sorry for the story - but it's about damned time we had drill-less drilling/dentistry. And without heat, we're fairly well-set on the way to needing less anesthetics in this field of medical science. GO PLASMA!!!
  • Being the buff manly man I am, I took the option at one point to have some cavities drilled without drugs. The option was only presented to me, however, because the cavities were superficial and did not go beyond the enamel in my tooth. It did feel funny and a little uncomfortable, but not to the point of blinding pain or anything that scary. It was pretty short, and had it gone on for much longer I would have probably opted for drugs.

    However, if I need a root canal, which I hope I never do, heavy doses
  • I am a dentist, so I thought I would chime in a bit
    "Painless" Laser Dentistry has been out for some time [] There are many dentists using it to prep cavities, gum surgery, and even root canals (though not up to our conventional standards). No shots are required. Proven technology.

    On the other hand, this plasma being researched is in its infancy and seems to only work on killing live cells and bacteria. It doesn't take care of the infected portions of the cavity that has

  • Academy of Laser Dentistry []

    Laser dentistry eliminates many of the common complaints of traditional dentistry. A laser device replaces the rotary tool and can be used for everything from surgery to tooth bleaching. The only addition to the procedure is the requirement of protective glasses to shield the eyes from the laser beam. A laser doesn't make any noise and doesn't require physical contact with your teeth. Water isn't usually needed but air suction is used to keep the treated area cool.

    I have read that often anesthesia is not needed since the laser doesn't produce the heat or vibration of the drill. It also avoids micro-fractures that may weaken the tooth down the road.

    On that site you can search for dentists in your area.

  • I've been to the dentist many times in my life. Many cavities filled, crowns added et al.

    The worst part of the dentist isn't that medical scent in every dentists office, with the faint mix of dried plaque... yeah, you know what I'm talking about. It's not even the part about getting poked with a needle here and there. (This shot goes in the roof of your mouth, you might feel a little prick... OK done.)

    Aside from the insane bill you get (which, do NOT get me started on this.), the worst experience is afte
    • "As it stands, man, I won't think about the dentist until tears are falling from my eyes due to pain."

      Great way to insure another unhappy ordeal. As I tell my patients, I'll see you now, or I'll see you later. If its later you know it's going to be more extensive AND expensive.

      Its always easier and cheaper to prevent than to fix.

      As to your complaint about being numb so long, ask your dentist to use 3% mepivicaine. 3 hours is the longest it will last. If you don't use all the carpule, it can wear off in 1/2
  • by ocie ( 6659 ) on Tuesday July 04, 2006 @02:22AM (#15654875) Homepage
    room temperature fourth state of matter?!?!? I'm sure my first thought would be "how can I stick this in my mouth?" too.
  • OMG I want this now! God I can't wait. No more seriously frickin annoying drill sound! I suppose they better have a steady hand when doing this kind of thing though. So much better! I may enjoy the next dentist visit!

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27