How Will Artificial Intelligence Affect Dentists?

Florian Hillen


If a dentist’s only job was to fix teeth, there would nary be an unhappy dentist. But the reality is that dentists are so much more than their namesake, and the job comes with extremely nuanced duties that only a dentist can understand.

The pressure of running a dental clinic can be immense, and most of it falls on the dentist’s shoulders. After all, dentistry is a business, which makes the dentist a businessperson, and a surgeon, and a primary care provider, and a diagnostician. Perhaps if dentists only had to build their own clinics brick by brick, the calling would be wholly answered.

As such, dentists are frequently overwhelmed, which can affect quality of care and the success of their practice. If only there was something that could streamline the workflow and make their job more intuitive, efficient, and even modern…

Enter artificial intelligence (AI).

AI in the Dental Business

Dentistry is a business, and the dentist’s job is to keep the customer happy and the clinic operating at maximum efficiency. It’s also to attract qualified talent, maintain a reputable standing, remain cost effective, and stay in step with technology and medical knowledge, to name a few obligations. In the midst of so much responsibility, dentists must also rely on their own abilities to minimize the capacity for human error.

On all of these fronts, AI has the power to enhance how a dental clinic operates and penetrate every single step of the value chain.

With AI, dentists can get a taste of automation through machine learning (ML), deep learning (DL), and computer vision algorithms that help identify pathologies while charting seamlessly with the clinic’s practice management system (PMS) and digitized data.

AI can offer precision accuracy with a second opinion based on a comprehensive assessment of thousands to millions of data points on everything from images and pathologies to patient histories and patient or provider input.

Also, AI can align the clinic’s operations with business intelligence software that can include a personalized assessment of patients, treatments, financials, clinical performance, training resources, and more.

All of this leads to an improved workflow, efficient administration, and advanced treatment plans that result in higher-quality care, cost efficiency, faster service, and a better patient experience, and that’s good for business.

AI and the Dental Surgeon

With the advance of AI technology, robots are taking on an ever-growing role in surgical procedures across various medical fields. And while AI-assisted robotic surgery has yet to grace the environs of the dental clinic, AI algorithms are already doing wonders in giving dentists incisive surgical gumption by way of enhanced diagnosis and judgment prior to and after procedures.

AI can leverage surgical and clinical data to make suggestions on the appropriate treatment plan in relation to the condition, history, and input of the patient. Referencing vast stores of dental knowledge and “learned” assessments, AI may offer a valuable second opinion on how a surgery should be performed and the potential treatment outcomes.

Like a second set of eyes, AI performs image analysis on x-rays, 3D scans, and other imaging techniques in near real-time and in multiples faster than when done manually. It also offers the support of data-driven treatment plans as they are proposed to patients, who may otherwise be unsure about surgery when it is simply pitched as a “good idea.”

AI and Primary Care Providers

As primary care providers, dentists assume the responsibility of providing fundamental care for local patients, often extending to their families and friends. This puts them in an influential position over the quality of life of local patients and standardized dental care for the community as a whole.

AI works alongside dentists in their goal of automating countless segments of the primary care process from diagnosis and documentation to treatment and creating a real-time bridge between patients, dentists, and insurance providers. All of this allows for a decrease in administrative burdens while achieving a more patient-focused service model.

Patients who lose trust in their primary care providers or who do not feel prioritized often relegate treatment needs to emergency care, while falling through the cracks as far as having a consistent patient history goes.

With AI, dental service not only becomes better informed and coordinated among providers, but it also can occur in leaps and bounds compared to traditional care, which puts patients back in control of their lives.

AI and Dental Diagnostics

As standalone diagnosticians, dentists rely almost entirely on their own professional observation to diagnose pathologies, symptoms, and patient histories while aligning treatment with the input and data they create through a manual charting system.

And while dental clinics employ technology in virtually every aspect of diagnostics, that technology is limited to the tools that make those assessments and records possible in the first place.

This does very little to remove the element of human error in analysis of conditions that may or may not be detected due to something as trivial as the contrast or brightness of an x-ray image, or pulling up the wrong code in a PMS.

Instead, such manual linchpins of traditional diagnostics become single data points among thousands or millions within an AI’s automated algorithm, allowing it to detect patterns that may reveal previously invisible or otherwise undetected signs of concern while offering a second opinion on diagnostic accuracy. And that’s a really big deal.

Mr. Hillen is the founder and CEO of VideaHealth, an MIT spinout and leading dental-AI company working with leading DSOs, insurers, and other companies in the dental industry. Previously, he conducted research at the intersection of engineering and social science at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society and at Harvard Business School. He also worked for McKinsey & Company and founded Ninu, a digital healthtech startup. He holds two master’s degrees from MIT in computer science and technology policy and a bachelor’s in management and technology. He completed the first German State exam in medicine as well. This article is the product of a discussion between Mr. Hillen and Dr. Paul Feuerstein, editor in chief of Dentistry Today.

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