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Gazing into the future, it is plain to see that smarter ways of doing dentistry will benefit patients, parents and guardians, dental teams and tax payers. (Image: Ksenia Shestakova/Shutterstock)

Mon. 12 June 2023


Smart toothbrushes and intra-oral sensors that continually monitor biomarkers in the oral cavity, efficient and free dental services based on preventive and collaborative care strategies, a mobile app that provides patients with preliminary triage and dental care guidance—a new way of doing dentistry may be just around the corner. Let us gaze into the crystal ball and see what might be possible if we dare to imagine it.

Screening on the playground

The calendar reads 2040. Five-year-old Ava is at the playground with her mother after her afternoon snack. Suddenly, Ava holds her cheek and says: “Ouch, my tooth hurts!” Her mother asks: “Which tooth is it, honey?” and Ava points and says: “Right there by my finger.” Her mother responds: “Okay, sweetie. Let’s take a picture and send it to tooth chat for help.”

Ava opens her mouth, and her mother takes out her phone and opens tooth chat in her dental app, where she is greeted by the app’s chatbot, which is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and guides her in taking a perfect photograph of the area. Using augmented reality, she can see what the photograph should look like before she takes it. Once happy with the photograph, she sends it off in the app. The chatbot asks her a few follow-up questions, which she answers either in text or verbally.

A few seconds later, Ava’s mother receives an answer from the chatbot: it looks like food impaction in the interdental space between the molars. The chatbot sends some advice and short videos with instructions on how Ava and her mother could try to clean the space between the teeth and thus solve the problem by themselves at home without having to go to the dental clinic.

To be sure of the preliminary diagnosis, the chatbot recommends that Ava’s mother take a better intra-oral photograph with Ava’s smart toothbrush when they get home. The whole family has electric toothbrushes with built-in intra-oral cameras, making it easy to monitor the health of their teeth and mouths from home.

Ava and her mother walk home to join the rest of the family for dinner. When it is time to brush their teeth before bed, Ava’s mother scans Ava’s teeth with the smart toothbrush, which automatically sends the scan via the dental app. While Ava is sleeping, her mother can check the response from the app, which always gives a preliminary diagnosis and some home care advice.

The final diagnosis can only be made at the clinic. If further remote assessment is needed, or if Ava’s mother has any follow-up questions, an on-call dentist or dental hygienist is always available for a remote tele-consultation via chat or voice or video call.

Biohacking and dental care on subscription

Ava’s mother is a biohacker and has gone one step further, having had an intra-oral sensor attached to the buccal side of one of her own mandibular molars. The sensor is a bit like an orthodontic bracket and can constantly monitor the condition of the oral cavity via various biomarkers in the saliva. This means that most dental diseases and imbalances in the oral microbiome can be detected early, allowing disease development to be discovered and reversed before requiring treatment. The electronic dental equipment is obviously expensive to acquire, but its cost is covered by the compulsory dental insurance package that all citizens now have.

Of course, the dental care package also includes a fixed quarterly subscription to all the oral care products that have been prescribed by the dental practitioner. Each quarter, a new pack of oral care products is provided, and the old products can be returned in the same box for sustainable recycling.

Healthcare turned upside down

The healthcare system long ago reoriented to care focused on prevention first. Anything else could no longer be justified. When you look back at the system in the 2020s, you shake your head. Back then, dentistry was predominantly geared towards treatment, which made it both extremely expensive and inefficient. Dental staff were perpetually treating oral conditions in patients and were consequently stressed and suffering burn-out, having to take time off work frequently or leaving the profession early owing to the subsequent effects on their mental and physical health.

Fortunately, in 2025, a few far-sighted health professionals, financial experts and politicians reached a broad policy agreement that reshaped the financing of dental care. Under the agreement, basic dental care for all citizens is funded by income tax and additional oral care is financed through a combination of compulsory dental insurance and treatment fees.

Central specialist clinics and local prophylaxis clinics

Celina, a dentist, is resting in the staffroom wearing virtual reality glasses for engaging in a few minutes of guided mini-meditation before she sees her next patient. She is pregnant and needs a little break in which she can put her feet up and take calming deep breaths in a nature-based setting.

She is a specialist in oral–systemic medicine, having completed a relatively new multidisciplinary master’s degree programme that is offered by a collaboration between dental faculties and hospitals. She works at the specialist clinic for complicated oral–systemic co-morbidities, where patients from all over the country can have complicated oral diseases treated and monitored and major reconstructions done. Patient capacity at the specialist clinic has been reached, and satellite specialist clinics are set to open in other major cities.

The clinics will collaborate closely, the specialist clinic acting as a mini-hospital and providing the complicated treatments, and the local satellite clinics providing the important basic dental treatments and regular check-ups, prophylaxis and health promotion, as well as the often overlooked trust-creating social interaction between the patient and the dental staff.

The clinics will communicate with each other via a cloud-based dental and medical record system, enabling data sharing and remote monitoring on the basis of extra-oral images, intra-oral scans and AI-assisted radiographs, among others. The system communicates with the common dental app, through which the entire population has access to their own dental records.

The work environment is the strongest currency

Anton, chief of staff at the specialist clinic, is extremely focused on creating the best workplace in the country, where employees want to stay on, take on responsibility and develop their professional skills. Indeed, Anton knows that recruiting great staff is now an advanced art form, as there is an extreme shortage of competent staff in all sectors.

He has taken the prevention first model one step further by adopting a well-known simple but extremely important approach that prioritises employees. Simply put, if employees are happy, patients and employers are happy too.

At the specialist clinic, the team no longer works with a schedule of fixed appointment times; rather, time intervals are provided. Patients can check in at a fixed time in the local area and then stay within a maximum of 5 minutes’ walking distance to the clinic until they receive a notification that the team is ready to receive them for treatment.

Rounding up

This look into the crystal ball shows us that the future of dentistry offers many fascinating new possibilities. However, these possibilities will only become reality if someone takes the lead and dares to try out new methods and workflows. The saying “If you are not evolving, you are dying” can be aptly applied to the recruitment (and retention!) of good staff who look forward to each workday and experience a deep sense of purpose and joy in their work.

I hope you have enjoyed this little sketch of how I think the future of dentistry may look. It is meant solely as inspiration for dental professionals and is based on dental innovation that is happening around the world, futuristic trends, scientific research and current scientific projects. Indeed, some of the technologies mentioned are already being implemented in several countries, and others are still in the developmental stage.

Editorial note:

Dr Anne Mette Stougaard is a dentist, futurist and entrepreneur based in Denmark. Readers can follow her on social media (@annemettestougaard), subscribe to her newsletter or contact her via email.

This article was published in Dental Tribune Nordic 2/2023.

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