“I hate the dentist” is an all-too-common refrain from patients. This is to be expected when, according to some studies, as many as 60% experience anxiety when visiting the dentist. Still, it is not a particularly rousing feeling to know that large swathes of the population live in fear of your laboriously trained hands.
Dealing with anxious patients is stressful, so is dealing with hate—and as it turns out, according to thebalancecareers.com, dentist might be the most hated profession around. This is in spite of the fact that, like other medical professionals, we are dedicated to improving patients’ health and happiness.
It is taxing to labor under such prejudice. Not only are we required to put our patients at ease, but we also have to work hard to project confidence and optimism, a kind of emotional labor known as “surface acting” in human resource circles. Putting on a happy face is particularly tough and can lead to increased anxiety and problems at home, according to a study published in Personnel Psychology. Masking our feelings can lead to isolation and loneliness, two stressors many dentists also know well.
Long hours spent in clinical environments and visits from patients who actively fear or distrust us, not to mention the financial burden of dental training and operating a practice, can be overwhelming. Yet when dentists read about artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) arrival in the dental field, they are prone to see AI as exactly that: another stressor.
For obvious reasons, AI has become synonymous with automation. Today, dentists hear “AI” and their imagination might conjure armies of android implant surgeons putting them out of business. That vision, of course, agrees neither with any vaguely plausible future nor with my own first-hand experience with AI.
“AI is something we should look forward to rather than fear”
It is true that AI will bring automation to dentistry. That automation will not, however, invalidate the dental profession. Rather, it will bring stress relief to it. That is because AI is going to automate—and has started automating already—certain aspects of our jobs in ways that will help us improve patient trust and increase practice profitability.
AI can take care of mundane tasks like reviewing radiographs, compiling charts and cross-referencing them with medical histories, thereby saving dentists considerable time. With more time available, we will be able to focus on solving more complex problems and give more energy to patient interactions that put patients at ease. More importantly, AI will also provide patients with the assurance of an objective second opinion in the operatory, taking pressure off when we need to convince skeptical patients to sign off on essential procedures.
Diagnostic computer vision systems, in conjunction with natural language processing and predictive analytics that scan patient records to find trends, predict progressions and chart treatment plans, can have a dramatic impact on the day-to-day operations of a dental office. This will not only allay professional stress, but also augment dental medicine’s reputation as a scientifically rigorous and medically vital enterprise.
AI is something we should look forward to rather than fear. It is not coming for our jobs; it is coming for the parts of our job that we do with least efficiency and that give us the greatest hassle.
Certainly, embracing AI alone cannot eradicate work-related stress, but the time AI will save us and the accuracy it can ensure will allow us to focus on the work only we can do—work, like preparing crowns, that requires human dexterity, intelligence and chairside manner.