Rise of the Machines - AI in Dentistry

A friend of mine who has been at the forefront of AI for the past decade (long before the advent of ChatGPT) recently told me that he likens the term “AI” in business today to the term “software” in the 80s and 90s. Point being, AI has the potential to affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Our dental practices will be no exception. From clinical and radiographic diagnostic assistance to back office administrative tasks to patient facing activities, AI will disrupt traditional office workflows in hugely impactful ways. I’ve listed a few examples of how we are implementing AI in our practices below, and I’m sure that this list will grow by an order of magnitude in the next 2 years.

  • Patient Management: We use AI to analyze patient visit patterns to optimize the scheduling process, reducing no-shows and improving the overall patient experience. Right now, there are companies in the dental industry that can literally predict which patients will no-show. You might think to yourself, great, but my front desk team can do that as well. That may be true for the repeat offenders in a pediatric patient base, but in a practice with a healthy active patient base of over 4,000 kiddos, there’s no way to beat big data when it comes to proactively managing the schedule.
  • Treatment Planning and Analysis: This one is probably the most obvious one in the dental space today. Companies like Overjet and Pearl can integrate with existing imaging software to help clinicians detect caries, predict future caries risk, and most importantly, help to educate the patient on their oral health and allow them to make fully informed decisions about their treatment planning. Up until recently, FDA clearance has been limited to patients older than 12 years old. However, Alcan is working with one of these companies to help tailor the software for pediatric dentistry, and clearances for ages 4 and above have already been issued to several of the market leaders in this space. I’ll put a big red asterisk on this one – there is no replacement for a clinician’s analysis. Tools like this are designed to aid, not replace, the judgement of pediatric specialists.
  • Billing and Insurance Processing: AI can streamline the billing process by automatically processing claims, verifying insurance eligibility, and even predicting the likelihood of claim acceptance. This speeds up the reimbursement process and reduces administrative workload. It should be noted that the same technology that is now available to your practice has been utilized by insurance companies to approve or deny your claims for several years now. My recommendation is to fight fire with fire and use the same tools to help advocate for your patients.
  • Predictive Analytics: Utilize data from past appointments, treatments, and patient outcomes to predict future trends. This can help in resource allocation, inventory management, and anticipating patient needs.
  • Standardization of care: As practice owners and advocates for oral healthcare, we have always erred on the side of conservative treatment. However, this conservative approach can inadvertently lead to negative health outcomes in the form of supervised neglect, particularly in the pediatric patient population. We have all had the unfortunate situation where a new patient presents with significant caries, and their previous dentist had been “watching” these primary teeth as the caries progressed for several months or even years. This situation leads to uncomfortable conversations with the responsible party at best and dissolution of patient-provider trust at worst. Utilizing an objective screening tool to help eliminate doubts in your treatment planning can help to re-establish that trust in our profession while still allowing for complete clinical autonomy.
  • Staff Training and Performance Monitoring: My wife and I enjoy backpacking together (at least we did before we were placed under house arrest by our 2 infant children). We have had the good fortune to make incredible treks all over the world. One of my favorite patches on my well-worn backpack says “Make your own luck.” If there’s one thing that has become apparent in trying to hire team members in the past few years, it’s that as a profession, we have to make our own luck when it comes to employee recruitment and retention. AI can help with this in more ways than we have space for in this particular article, but I look forward to expanding upon this concept in future writings.
  • Phone systems: We use a system that transcribes and then summarizes all patient calls directly into the patient memo. Imagine how much time your team will save by not having to type notes into the system about every patient call. Imagine what a great experience you can provide a child when they walk into the office as a new patient and your team talks to them about their favorite movie or superhero. Imagine a parent’s reaction when your team member mentions something that they discussed six months ago at their last visit. This phone system also allows us to determine which team members could use more training, which scripts are lacking in empathy, and which patients are in danger of switching to another practice.

Our recommendations

At Alcan, we evaluate every technology with one single metric: will it improve the patient experience? If you aren’t using AI to automate patient communications such as appointment reminders and scheduling, I’ll personally come to your office for free to help set it up. I say this half jokingly but also half seriously. This is such low hanging fruit that will free up your team’s time for worthy pursuits, such as improving the patient experience.

Look into the diagnostic tools out there. They aren’t right for every practice, and they aren’t fully developed for the pediatric world quite yet, but they are getting there. The sooner you can integrate this into your practice, the higher your case acceptance will be. As I mentioned above, I consider the increase in patient and parent education the most important role of this tool in our practices.

Look for ways to implement AI in your practice that will allow your team to provide the human touch and eliminate pain points like claims submittal and insurance verification. Your patients and your team will all thank you. Oh and one final thing: if you are using ChatGPT, make sure to be polite to it. Our future robot overlords will remember that sort of thing.