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Dentist-Inventor Tries to Make Experience Easier to Swallow - 2003-01-03

Lying under a hot light while a dentist drills your tooth is nobody's idea of a good time anywhere in the world. But a Brooklyn New York dentist has just received a series of patents that might make the experience a little easier to swallow.

The checkerboard tiling and shopworn 1950s decor in Dr. David Mushabac's dental office seem a bit old fashioned, but all the necessities are there sky-blue swivel chair with headrest, porcelain basin, cotton swabs, and row upon row of sterile metal instruments. "… And one of the things about dentists is that they build bridges. And that's a metaphor that's always been in my mind," he says. "When I say bridges, I mean two classes of bridges. To build a bridge in dentistry, which goes into a patient's mouth, it takes at least ten years of learning and studying in colleges.

"But] to build bridges that go beyond the individual patient, which is bridges between people, among nations is a lifetime of work and is civilization's dedication -- put it that way." So here we are utilizing what I've learned about treating patients and building bridges to carrying humanitarian health care treatment beyond Brooklyn, even though most of my practice has always been in Brooklyn!

Dr. Mushabac builds humanitarian bridges through patented inventions like the ones he is demonstrating now. In his left hand, he holds a stick-like wand. One end of the wand emits a laser beam, which he passes slowly over a toothy human mouth, a clay model in this case, while the wand's other end sends coded impulses into a nearby personal computer.

Dr. Mushabac's right hand grasps a whirring pen-like stylus, which he traces over the parts of the teeth that lie beneath the gums where his laser cannot reach. Soon, a precise high-tech, true-to-scale rendering of the entire mouth becomes visible on the computer screen. "This is the most remarkable picture in the history of dentistry today! Every time I see this it's almost like getting married again," he says. "Look at that!"

Because these precise computer images can be sent over the Internet, Dr. Mushabac hopes to teach American know-how to dentists in other places. "In the old days, like in medieval times, when a doctor wanted to teach his trade, he took in an apprentice. Well, modern science and modern technology gives each practitioner an opportunity to communicate with interested apprentices on line," he says. "And that's the magnificence of the age that we live in. With the inventions I've achieved, the tools now become ways of delivering health care beyond our borders. So it can go into other communities, other nations, where they don't have the technology, the background, the experience, the practice [and] know-how that we have here." Dr. Mushabac and his colleagues also hope to teach dentists in far-flung locales by sending images of a patient's mouth over the Internet in real time while they are working on the patients. Observing modern dentistry in action could reduce the time it takes a dentist overseas to learn how to make and fit dental implants, for example. "An implant is a very hard piece of dental work. After you are a dentist, it takes you about ten years to learn how to do it well," he says. "With this machine, you can teach anybody who is a dentist to do this almost as good as a man who has been practicing for twenty years." Now I can use that patient that is on my chair as a virtual patient in Afghanistan for example, to teach a dentist in Afghanistan the quality of the work I am doing on my patient in Brooklyn."

Dr. Mushabac has also invented a way to take the three dimensional images of a patient's mouth gleaned with his laser wand, and combine them with conventional x-rays, which can locate a nerve. He then combines this information within a computer that also registers the subtle movements of his hand while he operates his drill on a patient. This enables the instrument to "know" when he is approaching a nerve, and "warns him off," either by stopping the drill, or through auditory feedback from a CD player. But for now, Mattie Mushabac, Dr. Mushabac's wife of 42 years, provides the prototype by playing Mozart on the couple's upright piano. "What I do is correlate harmonious music with my drilling. And when I have a problem of what to do, the music interrupts … The moment I hear those sounds, that goes with correct work, see? And if I move my hand wrong, I will get flat notes, cockeyed notes and everything else. So I have my wife accompany the perfect filling with the sounds," he says. "And when I make a mistake, we go back. So what I'm doing is correlating good sounds with good motion…."

Dr. David Mushabac says that teaching dentistry through electronic images and sounds rather than through words alone will make the crucial difference, and that the good will created by this technology and other helpful American exports will help to build a Brooklyn Bridge to world peace. His motto is: "put down your gun, and pick up a smile!"