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    The future of dental practices

    Experts say the field of dentistry is shifting and new advancements will accompany the change. What will your dental practice look like five years from today?


    Kachalia says there is a huge potential that a computer could read data and make conclusions. 

    “Kind of like IBM’s Watson for dentistry,” he says. “There’s no Watson of dentistry today, or anything even close to it. I do think there’s this A.I. component that is going to be able to read our diagnostic input and tell us to some degree, ‘Here’s what this A.I. component believes is happening.’ It’s not going to be an absolute from a medical standpoint, but it’s going to give you guidance. It’s almost a diagnostic GPS system that will say, ‘Here’s what’s maybe going on.’” 

    Though people are talking about it, it hasn’t been done yet. Dr. Kachalia attributes that to the number of proprietary software on the market. But now that more companies are providing open-source software, that will start to change. 

    “We’re starting to get to the point where people are more open with the data, and now they’re asking how they should gather that data,” he says. “There are lots of algorithms that need to be run in order to accomplish that. How that’s going to play out is the unknown.” 

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    Data will also be the catalyst for another futuristic aspect of dentistry: augmented reality (think Snapchat). 

    “Those worlds are coming to health care,” Dr. Kachalia says. “That concept behind Snapchat’s filters will be involved in the medical world to show patients the potential of what they can have.” 

    He says showing patients a live composite image of their face will help show patients the picture before starting treatment. 

    “Two-thirds of people learn through visual communication versus auditory or tactile, but that visual role has not been in health care from an education standpoint in the past,” he says. “We used it from a diagnostics standpoint, but I think we’re bridging the gap so patients can understand what’s happening. A big part of understanding relies on them seeing value in their practitioner and not seeing it as a commodity. They start to see a rationale for picking a practitioner: someone who can truly educate them versus just handing them some words on a sheet. It’s taking informed consent beyond, ‘Here’s some text,’ to an actual visual standpoint of what’s happening.” 

    Of course, this is all down the road. But it’s a good idea to have a few basic technologies up and running to be able to get the data and all of its benefits. Step one, says Dr. Kachalia, is having an intraoral camera. Then it’s radiographs. 

    “Thankfully, we’ve seen a tipping point occur there,” he says. “Assuming you have those things, intraoral scanning is going to be the gateway to allow everything else to occur.” 

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    These advances in technology pose an interesting question: How do you make it available to everyone? This is something that was on Dr. Kennedy’s mind at the Sirona 3D Summit. 

    “That has to be a focus in dentistry as well—making diagnostics and tech like that available to all health centers,” she says. “When you have advancements like this, they need to apply to everyone. Because the cost of having that technology and the training is so astronomical when you look at it across an entire population of dentists or people, I don’t know if there is one answer, but it’s definitely a question that should be asked. It could revolutionize dental care for everyone.” 

    Dr. Gray’s suggestion for his own practice is to offer treatment pro-bono. 

    “The bottom line is that, where I see our practice five years from now is that if we continue to have a consistent, excellent experience, we have patients that can pay a fee for service and they value, appreciate and can afford what we do, it gives me the ability to go ahead and offer reduced fee or even free dentistry for patients that value and appreciate it but can’t afford it,” he says. “It gives me a chance to give back in that model. It’s going to be a real hard line between those practices that can do that and the corporate model that’s out there.”


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