Modern tools such as teledentology, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and 3D printing are changing dental care today.
Each of us should have regular preventive dental checks. But let’s face it, which of us has visited their dentist regularly for the past few years.
According to the Czech Dental Chamber (CSK), almost 50% of Czech dentists experienced a decrease in patient visits of 10%, 35% of Czech dentists experienced a decrease in patient visits of up to 25% and 15% of Czech dentists experienced an almost 50% decrease in patient visits. . Among the main reasons for the reduction in the number of regular visits, patients cite fear of COVID-19 infection, traditionally fear of dental care and difficulties in finding a suitable place or time.
On the other hand, the pandemic is also changing patient preferences. This is leading to the development of new digital solutions for dental services that will help dentists provide better care and connect more effectively with customers. Today, four dental care technologies such as teledentology, virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing are at the forefront.
Teledentology expands access to dental care
Dental practices also had to restrict operations or even close practices at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as did many other medical facilities. Recent data from the CSK survey showed that almost half of surgeries are treating fewer patients today compared to the number before the pandemic.
As with other healthcare, the pandemic has encouraged the use of telemedicine technologies. Teledentology is thus becoming established in dental practices. On the one hand, it reduces the risk of transmission of the viral infection, but at the same time it helps dentists to comply with sanitary measures.
According to recent analyses, teledentology can also minimize the patient stress associated with traveling for dental care. This is especially appreciated by those who do not have access to reliable transportation or who have to travel longer distances for dental treatment. Teledentology tools can thus help to decide whether there really is an urgent reason and an immediate trip to the dentist is necessary, or whether the patient can wait for a regular check-up.
Teledentology, including audio and video interaction, involves the use of communication technologies to provide dental care services, such as consultation, diagnosis, and patient education, remotely. With teledentology, dentists can virtually meet with their patients to assess their condition, present treatment plans, offer extensive dental information, prescribe medications, and meet for pre-op and post-op meetings.
Unfortunately, the Czech Republic is lagging behind in these technologies. The technological tools supporting telehealth care are not yet sufficiently used and the health regulations and financing conditions have not been set for this purpose.
Virtual reality distracts patients
Virtual reality (VR) is another emerging dental technology that could help doctors provide better patient care. | Source: Wren Handman/Pixabay
In a dental office environment, virtual or augmented reality (AR) could take the form of a headset that the patient puts on before sitting in a dental chair. The device will provide him with appropriate digital distraction during the unpleasant and painful procedure. In many ways, this is replaced by the oft-used ceiling TVs, which are located in dental practices above the dental chair. These provide patients with digital image perceptions in relaxation programs that they can focus on during the procedure.
Today, several studies confirm that virtual reality has a significant impact on pain management. Role-playing users and patients have reported a consistent decrease in perceived pain when using virtual reality. This technology can also help create and strengthen empathy between dentist and patient, which improves care and speeds healing.
But virtual reality has also proven itself in the training of dentists. These tools allow dental students to digitally experiment and practice dental procedures. This is particularly useful for solving problems that are rare but require specific experience to perform the necessary intervention.
Artificial intelligence aids in diagnosis
According to a number of scientific publications, artificial intelligence tools are much more powerful and consistent than dentists in diagnosing dental caries from peripheral X-rays. In the end, it makes sense. Artificial Intelligence (ML/DL) tools are trained on a large number of digital images and guided by experienced dentists to decide on the occurrence of caries. This gives them a significant advantage over human diagnostics.
As with X-ray or CT diagnostics, artificial intelligence has a real advantage in detecting abnormal structures in dental tissues, in diagnosis and designing treatments. For effective work, the artificial intelligence, together with the dentist, must form a team that evaluates and verifies the results together.
Tools with artificial intelligence have applications both in clinical decision-making and in the training of future dentists. These tools, working with anonymous dental data, can help improve the accuracy of clinical treatment procedures before performing an irreversible procedure. At the same time, they can generate model procedures for students to use in training dental treatment procedures.
3D printing pays off for patients and doctors
As in other medical fields, 3D printing technology is becoming increasingly resonant in dentistry. Cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) and intraoral scanning are used in dentistry to obtain accurate spatial patterns. 3D printing in conjunction with CAD/CAM tools will enable the production of a wide range of products, such as drill guides for dental implants, the production of physical models for prosthetics, orthodontics and surgery, production of dental, craniomaxillofacial and orthopedic implants, production of covers and frames for implants and dental prostheses, and more.
Today, computed tomography technology is also available for dental offices. They can prepare high-quality data to create a volumetric image and then create a 3D model of the patient’s jaws. The resulting physical model can be used to assess the impact of treatment or to plan specific surgical procedures.
Likewise, 3D printing offers a faster and cheaper way to create dental plates, which are used, for example, to reinforce and prop up decaying or hanging teeth. Until recently, broken or damaged splints involved slow and relatively expensive repairs, or the production of new ones. Now, thanks to 3D printing, new plates can be created in less than an hour.
Digital dental technology brings security aspects
On the one hand, new dental digital technologies offer advantages such as better availability, reduced patient stress, better diagnostic accuracy or lower material costs. On the other hand, the use of these new technologies makes it possible to obtain new, richer data. As a result, the value of medical records increases, as do the number of ransomware and phishing attacks against dentists.
Cybersecurity experts therefore recommend that technology manufacturers already integrate technology privacy into the design (security by design). This would help reduce safety risks and increase patient confidence. In practice, this means building in security controls and access to data before sharing it with other healthcare professionals or partners to ensure the risk of a data breach is significantly reduced.
New digital technologies have proven to transform dental care and bring benefits to patients and industry providers.