Tech won't replace dentists, but it can help them to improve their practice

The biggest threat to dentistry isn’t being replaced by tech. It’s failing to adapt to tech.

The biggest threat to dentistry isn’t being replaced by tech. It’s failing to adapt to tech.

It’s pretty obvious that Siri, Alexa, and other virtual assistants are becoming more powerful and useful tools. In just the past year, Amazon released a huge range of products to allow their system to integrate further into our daily lives. Google caused a stir at their conference when they demonstrated how their virtual assistant could call a restaurant to make bookings. Many were amazed (and a little freaked out) by how human the assistant sounded. But even without getting into tech-pocalypse questions, this progress leaves many of us with a pretty fundamental question: how long before a machine can do our jobs for us?

Nobody seems to be clear on exactly how many people will lose or gain jobs as technological progress continues. When MIT Technology Review tried to look into what the consensus was on the overall effect of tech on jobs, they found that there was no consensus. In fact, even predictions about the same time frame and location varied in their estimates by tens of millions. The short answer is we have no idea what the impact of technology on employment will be.

But not all jobs are at the same level of risk. Some are much more easily automatable than others, and conveniently enough, researchers in Oxford University were kind enough to make a list of which jobs were most at risk from automation. The website willrobotstakemyjob.com allows you to look up your job and see the risk of it being automated. Coming out as the 19th least automatable job, with a risk of roughly 0%, are dentists.

This is obviously great news for dentists, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Specialist healthcare professions such as dentistry occupy 15 of the top 25 slots on the list of least replaceable jobs, for the simple reason that the skills and perception it takes to have one of these professions just can’t be easily put in code. So if dentists have nothing to fear from being replaced by tech, should technology advancing matter to dentists?

With people quite fairly concerned about the threat to their job from technology, it’s easy to lose sight of the idea that in some cases, technology can make some jobs more effective without causing any knock on job loss, and dentistry is a perfect example of this. Dentists all over the US are well aware of the access issues suffered by those in rural communities. Even in areas where people are near to dentists, Americans often avoid the cost of the routine checkups that dentists know are so important to our oral health. Access and affordability are just two areas where technology can help with no risk to a dentist’s job security.

Dentists who don’t embrace telehealth technology are most at risk. While telehealth won’t be able to replace their expertise, it will offer dentists a huge competitive edge in getting to new patients- particularly those who wouldn’t be able to afford dental check-ups without the savings and convenience technology can bring.

For those who do adopt it, however, there’s a world of possibilities. Getting involved early gives dentists the opportunity not only to take full advantage of the benefits telehealth can bring, but also to be a part of shaping the technology as it develops. Dentists can offer tech companies compelling and useful insights on how to best tailor products, and in turn tech companies can offer dentists products that are reliable and helpful to use. Technology is improving processes across the board, so working with tech early can give you a really competitive edge.

Sources: MIT Technology Review, Technological forecasting and social change, willrobotstakemyjob.com, National Rural Health Association