Arthur Miller didn’t write a play called, “Death of a Dentist,” did he? Dentists are clinicians, trained to diagnose and treat patients, not salesmen angling to promote products and services.
Still, when dentists conclude their exam and make their diagnosis, they may find that convincing patients to accept treatment requires some personal finesse, supported by clinical evidence that is easy to understand. Dentists are often ill-equipped for that part of the job.
Patients know that the more problems dentists find, the more money they make. Dentists know that patients know this, so they don’t always feel comfortable with what could be perceived as a treatment upsell.
Instead, they rely on radiographs to support their recommendations. But x-rays are vague, gray, and hard to interpret, even by dentists themselves. So it’s no surprise that patients also struggle to see what their dentist sees.
Pearl’s recent patient trust survey showed that 65% of patients said they didn’t completely understand what their dentists point out in x-rays. This gap leads to missed treatment opportunities.
Luckily for everyone, advancements in technology have made dental imaging more detailed, colorful, and easier to explain diagnoses -- and treatments -- to patients. Below I explain four tools that will help you as present your treatment recommendations to patients.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and while intraoral photography can’t show what’s going on inside or between teeth (like interproximal decay), it does allow dentists to show patients crisp, clear images of their teeth, gums, and oral tissue. Using intraoral photography, dentists can set a baseline for a patient’s oral health, then show them any visible difference in future photography, like receding gumlines, lesions, or even tartar buildup. This method can make a compelling case for treatment.
Intraoral scans produce 3D images that dentists can review with patients. Using a wandlike scanner that captures digital dental impressions, the accompanying software can produce a highly detailed image of a patient’s mouth that can be seen, rotated, and examined from different angles.
Like intraoral photography, scanners capture a patient’s mouth in detail but render it in 3D so patients can see each tooth’s shape and contour. These efficiently captured, highly accurate images show patients how pathologies are affecting their oral health from every point of view.
Dentists like to think of themselves as part artists and part scientists, helping patients maintain a healthy, confident smile. In the case of digital smile design, dentists and their patients can work together using interactive imaging software to engineer aesthetic improvements like veneers, crowns, or implants. Giving patients a glimpse of their new smile can be a powerful tool in persuading them to accept potentially costly but life-changing treatment.
Dentists can also use an AI diagnostic assistant, which is computer vision software trained on vast sets of dental imagery to detect various dental pathologies, including calculus formations, caries lesions, the margins of tooth color discrepancies, and periapical radiolucencies.
This assistant provides valuable support to dentists by focusing clinicians on problems they might not have otherwise noticed and presenting it to patients using colorful bounding boxes and other on-screen data.
“In most cases, we aren’t looking for a specific condition. That’s why we’re prone to miss things,” Dr. Tony Tomaro, a partner at University Dental Professionals in Chicago, said. “What we need help with is seeing everything.”
Showing a patient what is behind their diagnosis is like giving them a microlesson in dentistry, thus making them feel empowered enough to make informed decisions about their care. These technologies can assist practitioners in talking with patients about the pros and cons of further treatment. What would happen if you agree to a procedure and what would happen if you do not? What are the risks? What are the benefits?
Dental-school curricula are clinically based. Dental students learn how to do a crown, how to do an implant, and how to do a denture. Business skills like client communication and management, practice expansion, and sales and marketing aren’t covered -- and that’s a shame.
Instead of feeling like Willy Loman, “selling” treatments to patients, dentists can use these latest software tools available to them as an integral part of educating patients and caring for their oral health.