“Pain-free” is the latest buzzword in dentistry. It makes me wonder, was it purposely painful before? Did dentists have to be told: “Hey, we’ve got this great new idea, how about inflicting less pain?” When I was a kid I had a lot of teeth pulled in preparation for braces. My dentist must have been ahead of his time because he would break out the nitrous oxide and Novocain at the drop of a cuspid. I would by lying in that vinyl motorized chair and he would duck in and say: “Ready for a magic carpet ride?” Then he would fiddle with some knobs and leave for an undetermined time with me breathing that wonderful anxiety relieving gas until I was “feeling floaty.” I suppose through his liberal use of “laughing gas” there was some danger of me ending up like Frank Booth from Blue Velvet but all it really did was ensure that I never felt the sting of the needle nor minded the shrill shriek of the dreaded dentist’s drill. Maybe one too many physicists in the Netherlands caught a midnight showing of Blue Velvet because they have developed a possible replacement for the dentist’s drill; the plasma needle.
The drill is terrible. If the kindly benign Dr. Jekyll designed the hand held hobbyist “Dremel” drill then surely his maniacal alter ego Hyde hatched the concentrated evil that is the dentist’s drill. It seems tuned somehow to play off some deep dark primitive instinct, it gets in your head like a demonic tinnitus and doesn’t let go. The plasma needle may look ominous but does not contain any high-frequency whirling parts and the white-hot looking business end is actually cool to the touch.
Plasmas are gasses that have been ionized at very high temperatures. Normally these temperatures would be so high that they would kill living cells, but researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology have overcome this problem by localizing the ionization at the end of a tungsten needle only 0.3 millimeters across. This could provide a painless alternative to not only the dentist’s drill but could be used to cauterize wounds or even transfer healthy cells to an affected area to speed healing.
Found via physics web.