Practice Intelligence: How AI Can Optimize Dental Practices

Kyle Stanley, DDS


Balancing the responsibilities of running a business and providing patient care is a challenge for any dentist. Add a couple hundred offices under one big dental support organization (DSO) umbrella, and the challenge is exponentially greater. The number of moving pieces, including clinician management, business operations, and software maintenance, make providing the best treatment while getting a solid return on investment a real challenge. A drastic shakeup is coming, however, and DSOs welcome it.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will have a huge impact on practice management for DSOs in particular. With AI, we can make informed buying, managerial, and treatment planning decisions that allow us to optimize every aspect of the business and its workflow. But quality AI requires a reliable supply of training data. Collecting that data, especially in healthcare, is not so easy.

To analyze it, AI software needs the data to be “structured.” What that means is that every piece of information included in each dataset must be labeled or identified so that the AI can assimilate it with like data points from other datasets. Intake forms are a good example of naturally structured data. There is a field for the patient’s name, birth date, medications, and so on. That field format provides the structure. 

We also have vast quantities of unstructured data in the form of X-rays, intraoral scans, face scans, and CT scans. For unstructured data to have utility, it must be annotated. Dental X-rays can become structured data when they are tagged with demarcations identifying natural anatomy and pathologies. Once dental imagery is annotated (or structured), it becomes a valuable resource for the machine learning algorithms that teach AI systems to see and understand things. 

Of course, annotating enough of all the data sources within the dental field to provide training data for an AI is no small task. But it’s a task we’re working on. DSOs, with their large integrated data systems, can play a big part in accelerating the process. And they have good reason to.

Optimizing Practice Management

When it comes to practice intelligence, AI will be a significant aid to managers of DSOs big and small. Today, if they want to assess how their dentists are performing to oversee or elevate their standard of care, DSO managers have no option other than to painstakingly comb through patient data by hand. With AI, we will gain the kind of practice intelligence that can show how a new dentist performs against a dentist who has 30 years of experience, for example. 

That’s not the only way AI will help DSOs achieve their goals. It will also help with decisions to invest in equipment and dental technologies. If, say, a DSO is considering whether it should introduce a new, expensive bone loss prevention laser to its 1,200 practices, AI-powered data analysis technology can be used to assess the value of the investment. If the AI system identifies bone loss as a common issue among the DSO’s broader patient pool, the DSO can safely decide to purchase the equipment because it knows the needs of its patients will ensure a return on the investment.  

Another way AI can impact buying decisions is by tracking instrument use with RFID chips so that a DSO can determine which instruments need to be reordered and when. If the DSO sees that nobody in an office is employing a certain variety of spatula, it will know not to reorder and can even remove the implement from its practices’ cassettes.

Making Informed Staffing and Training Decisions  

Large organizations can also utilize data to make informed staffing decisions. With an AI-produced snapshot of their patient base, they can identify how often a specialist needs to be in the office. DSOs typically have dentists practicing every day but only have specialists come in periodically. With the knowledge of specifically how many patients in their offices have conditions requiring specialist attention, however, DSOs can make informed decisions when it comes to hiring or scheduling.

AI analytical technology can also be used to provide guidance on training needs. Organizations will be able to see the data on each clinician and compare how many patients accepted treatment and which treatment they chose. If its veteran dentists are seeing case acceptance at a rate of 85% while its new dentists are only seeing 50% case acceptance, a DSO might be able to infer that its new dentists need training on how to communicate with patients to raise their acceptance rate. 

AI Leading the Way 

Artificial intelligence and big data can drastically improve dentistry and the entire healthcare industry, especially for larger organizations that work with a lot of data. DSOs that incorporate these new technologies will find that their diagnoses are more accurate, their practices more profitable, and their dentists more trusted by patients. Overall, AI has the capability to inspire practice growth, positively impact patients’ lives, and change the system for the better. And that’s a future we don’t have to wait for any longer.

Dr. Stanley is the chief clinical officer at Pearl, where he is deploying AI to change the way dental patients are treated. He maintains an exclusive private practice in Beverly Hills, California, where alongside Dr. Matthew Nejad and Dr. Mark Helm he treats quality focused patients with biomimetic, implant, and cosmetic dentistry. He graduated from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California and completed a dental implant residency along with a dental implant specialty in Florianopolis, Brazil.

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