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We have all heard that patient engagement is critical when aiming to grow our practices as dentists. Rightly so, a dental business is all about people, and being able to communicate efficiently and effectively is the key to success.

To enhance our success as dentists, and as business owners, we must contemplate the innumerable engagement-related challenges that we are faced with every single day and try looking up relevant solutions.

The rapid advancements happening on the technology front are taking every industry by storm today. Dental care is no different. State-of-the-art tech innovations can greatly help dentists in improving overall patient engagement levels.

1) Teledentistry helps increase patients' access to anytime care

Even the thought of having to visit a dentist for an oral health checkup can be intimidating for patients in the midst of a global health emergency of the scale we're experiencing right now. This is particularly true since patients remain most vulnerable to contracting infection from aerosols in the clinical setting.

With the initially placed COVID-19 measures now relaxing in the United States and with dentists slowly getting their operations back on track, a lot of new patient concerns have emerged, Some of these include:

How are dental care providers going to protect themselves and their patients in doing so?

How is dentistry going to keep away from becoming a vertical industry hotbed for new COVID-19 outbreaks?

For now, the solution simply lies with teledentistry.

As medical doctor-turned-writer Dr. Vinati Kamani wrote in a recent article, teledentistry is transforming the patient care landscape.

“By eliminating the need to make a trip down to the dentist's office, teledentistry removes the barriers to routine visits,” Dr. Kamani wrote. “Teledentistry can also prove to be a vital patient education and patient engagement channel. Patients can attend virtual sessions for learning good oral hygiene practices.

From teaching children how to brush and floss to caring for periodontal conditions in post-op follow ups, a lot can be done remotely through teledentistry.”

Dentists can also integrate the telemedicine platform with a dedicated cloud server to store patient data and retrieve it remotely at any given point in time. An integrated platform helps the dental care provider and their staff to check a particular patient's medical history before an appointment with greater ease.

This further accelerates the entire care delivery process.

Making yourself available to patients outside of work hours can give them a sense of belongingness and result in a better patient experience.

You can also provide your patients with additional convenience and safety by remotely monitoring their homecare based on the details they share and symptoms they exhibit through a telemedicine platform.

These safety measures play a crucial role in reassuring your patients that they are in safe hands.

2) CBCT/3D imaging eliminates guesswork and reduces errors

Patient engagement does not only depend on the ease with which patients can approach their dentists, it also greatly depends on the experience a dentist furnishes for their patients.

And furnishing that sort of experience truly depends on how well the dentist understands the patients and their pain points, and how they augment clinical procedures to deliver optimal care.

3D imaging is one tech solution that is helping dentists do just that.

Cone Beam Computed Tomography, commonly referred to as CBCT, is a low-radiation 3D imaging technique that has exhibited immense potential in dentistry.

This technology is reportedly more efficacious than conventional two-dimensional radiographs since it utilizes a cone-shaped ionizing beam, which considerably mitigates a patient's exposure to radiation while providing high-quality 3D visuals.

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Recent experiments compared spiral CT scans to limited volume CBCT. The data from these tests disclosed that the latter could measure distances in a more precise manner.

3D scans obtained through CBCT allow the restorative dentist and surgeon to effectively plan and place dental implants. Their benefits and uses are present throughout the continuum of care — right from detecting issues early on, to treatment, to postoperative examinations.

Today, this technique is being used on all fronts of dental care:

  • Identification and distance determination of vital anatomic structures
  • Determining if a bone graft or sinus lift is required
  • Bone contours visualization
  • Optimizing the implant location and angulation
  • Optimal implant size and type selection
  • Reducing surgery time
  • Increase case acceptance
  • Building patient confidence

There are several other evolutions happening on the dental digital printing front that are about to get completely operational in a few years' time. Therefore, 3D printing technology is here to stay.

Due to innumerable advantages that come alongside the use of CBCT, dental care providers should consider integrating this solution into their practice to boost patient

3) Virtual reality can help alleviate anxiety in patients

One of the aspects that makes it difficult for dental care providers to engage patients in a meaningful manner is a patient's fear of having to go through excessive pain.

In spite of the rapid advancements in treatment technologies and techniques, the majority of people in need of dental care still delay or even completely avoid it because of the anxiety and fear surrounding pain.

Now, although analgesics have been the traditional solution for mitigating pain in the past, it does not necessarily mean that medication is always the most effective of all solutions.

Studies have shown that our pain perception is greatly based on a strong psychological element – conscious attention. Therefore, distraction can effectively take a patient's awareness away from pain sensations.

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Virtual reality is one technological solution that utilizes advanced techniques to offer virtual environments that allow patients to be immersed in a simulated, interactive world. These advanced systems interact at different levels with the VE, stimulating sounds, sights, and motion to enhance distraction from pain.

Time and again, various studies have depicted that involving the patient in a VE can mitigate reported levels of pain during medical procedures such as physical therapy, chemotherapy, burn wound changes, and even surgery.

Specifically for dental work, one clinical study found that dental patients undergoing periodontal treatment experienced substantial reduction in pain when using VR compared to patients that watched a movie, and to others that did not have any distractions in place.

Due to all these reasons, it can be rightly said that VR technology is set to become a viable form of anxiety and fear control for dental treatments in the near future. This will further help keep patients engaged and ameliorate outcomes in the long run.

It is important for dental care providers to remember that although technology can boost patient engagement in a number of ways, the best way to do so is by building a rapport with your patients and winning their trust over time.

You need to balance out things in a way that technological innovation becomes a facilitator in the process, and not a replacement for human touch.

Dr. Lorne Lavine, founder and president of The Digital Dentist, has over 30 years invested in the dental and dental technology fields. Dr. Lavine writes for many well-known industry publications and lectures across the country. His articles have appeared in Dentistry Today, Dental Economics, Dental Practice Report, among others.