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Open Wide – Mace Windu’s Lightsaber Is the Latest in Toothbrush Technology


Ah, dentists. As the song goes, they have a talent for causing things pain. But with new advances in the field of dentistry, the pain might be more fleeting than you think. And it’s all thanks to Star Wars. Well, kind of.

Presenting the Cool Plasma Blowtorch (that’s cool as in cold, though the technology is also pretty nifty), the latest advancement in dental care that kills plaque, cleans your teeth, and looks exactly like Mace Windu’s lightsaber. Plasma is an ionized gas, the fourth state of matter (after solid, liquid, and gas), and is usually hot. For example, the center of stars are made of hot plasma, and if introduced to your face, would probably blast it apart. Same with both Sith and Jedi lightsabers, hence the cauterization of wounds and the melting of metal when a Jedi tries to chop through your blast door.

While hot plasma can be good for heating a planet or creating Darth Vader through amputation, cool plasma creates the perfect cleaning agent for your chompers. “Atomic oxygen [a single atom of oxygen, instead of the more common O2 molecule] appears to be the antibacterial agent,” explains Chunqi Jiang, a research assistant professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering-Electrophysics. The best part is that while the Oxygen cleans your teeth, the thin, purple plasma “flame” that produces it uses only short pulses of electricity — even after ten minutes of use, the tooth’s temperature never raises over five degrees.

Now, if you were to ask the question, “How do I learn to use such a cool plasma toothbrush?” you’d be seguing perfectly into our next piece of dental innovation, the Virtual Dental Implant Training Simulation. First presented at a conference in Boston, the VDITS is a little less Star Wars, and a little more The Last Starfighter.

In the ’80s scifi adventure, a young boy is trained for interstellar battle by playing a video game. His high score leads him to be recruited by an alien race, whisked off into space, and given the solemn task of saving the galaxy. While the VDITS isn’t quite so epic, it does allow dentists the ability to hone their technique in a virtual environment before heading into the non-virtual office.

Through a series of patient interviews and on screen choices, a dental student sets up a scenario, diagnoses a patient, and then puts their drill-plan into action. The result either leads to a successful operation, or virtual exploding gums. Seriously — that’s the penalty for screwing up, which though gross is far preferable to exploding gums in real life.

Isaac Jeppsen, the simulation’s producer, says the experience is not all that dissimilar from playing a video game wherein humans of the future battle aliens. He should know, having designed the Command and Conquer series of games that do just that. The only difference between the two, according to Jeppsen, is the audience. But if a gamer can learn to do a root canal using a video game, couldn’t he also learn to fire the secret Death Blossom?

With all the scifi influences on dentistry, what movies will inspire the ADA next? Perhaps instead of being put under during an operation, doctors will send patients to a virtual, “perfect” world, Matrix-style. Or will we see Star Trek-like tooth removal, where dentists beam your molars directly out of your head? As long as we don’t have a dentist’s chair lifted from A Clockwork Orange, I think we’ll be in good shape.

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