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Dental Ai

How Aspen Dental uses digital dental assistant technology

April 25, 2023
Voice-activated periodontal charting alleviates hygienist pain points while enhancing the patient experience, especially helpful during staffing shortages.

As the director of hygiene strategy and operations at Aspen Dental, I keep my finger on the pulse of the health-care and dental worlds. I’ve always been interested in how technology enhances our lives. From smartphones to digital personal assistants, innovation has crept into our homes.

This trend extends into the medical and dental fields. Clinical professionals have started using artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies to improve operational efficiency, guide better decision-making, and bolster clinical excellence. Recently, our providers have implemented voice-enabled AI for periodontal charting, which benefits both providers and patients.

Useful technology targets major pain points

Documentation is a crucial yet inconvenient task for most providers because entering data into periodontal charts takes time away from patient care. Typically, hygienists work with dental assistants to complete periodontal charts. Given the workforce shortage of assistants, this arrangement has become a pain point. Even with an assistant available, having an additional person in the room with the patient can limit the patient’s interaction with the provider. 

For hygienists who manually type the data themselves, cross contamination of keyboards and gloves, as well as the ergonomics of constantly rotating between the patient and the computer, become major issues. 

The introduction of a voice-enabled digital dental assistant can alleviate all these pain points to improve the patient and provider experience. The technology used in Aspen Dental practices allows providers to speak commands into a microphone that the software then transcribes into the patient’s periodontal chart.

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New technology requires implementation and training

From a clinician’s perspective, there are three crucial questions for any technology implementation. Is the technology accurate enough? Is the technology fast enough? Is the technology easy to use? If accuracy, speed, or ease of use are compromised, adoption of the technology will be hampered. 

To ensure as smooth an implementation as possible, we focused on an extensive pilot program so we could learn from users themselves. The hygienists in our program provided excellent feedback regarding what commands they would find useful and how the technology could best suit their needs. Their input resulted in the addition of time-saving voice commands such as “bleeding all interproximal.” 

Rolling out large-scale adoption of this technology also required a well-planned training program. We created virtual e-learning modules to give an overview of the different commands for the software, and built an interactive knowledge check. The virtual training was useful, but the most beneficial aspect of the program was the shoulder-to-shoulder training hygienists received from hygiene managers. Having another hygienist to support the new learners greatly increased adoption of the new technology.

Innovative technology enhances efficiencies

For providers, the digital dental assistant has significantly enhanced operational efficiency and clinical engagement. By delegating administrative tasks to this technology, dental assistants are free to focus on other patient care duties, and hygienists are able to more fully engage with patients. This technology streamlines the administrative and operational tasks, such as completing periodontal charts, so providers have more time to deliver quality care and educate patients instead of focusing so much on documentation. 

As for patients, having the full attention of their hygienist encourages productive conversation. Before the introduction of the digital dental assistant, patients tended to hold back from asking questions because they didn’t want to interrupt the hygienist or assistant. Now, patients feel more engaged in codiscovery to better understand their oral health. 

While the AI technology encompasses the tasks of a digital dental assistant, there is room for growth with patient diagnostic softwares. Voice recognition, x-ray analysis, auto dental charting, data dashboards, patient health summaries, and complete clinical documentation and treatment notes are all on the horizon for AI technology in the dental industry. 

Continuing to leverage innovative technology to improve operational and clinical efficiency is key to enhancing provider satisfaction and patient care. Our practices strive to implement cutting-edge technologies and techniques to make sure we’re expanding access to excellent dental care for as many patients as possible.