Technology for Transformation

Columbia is bringing the transformative power of data science to advance all fields, professions, and sectors. In the dental field, we are tapping into that potential to push the boundaries of what’s possible in oral health care. We are working toward a field of prediction and prevention, not just repair.

To do that, changing the structure of our programs isn’t enough. We’re creating a flexible learning environment that responds to each student’s needs, developing cutting-edge tools and technology, and training our students to adopt and create innovations to perform their best for every single patient.

We are preparing our students not just for the procedures they will perform after graduation. We are equipping them for an increasingly data-rich future where their ability to analyze, understand, and deliver care based on that data, will be critical to their success and the health of their patients.

Smarter Chairs

Unlike most dental chairs today, the movements of the Center for Precision Dental Medicine’s new chairs are controlled by digital technology instead of hydraulics, and these chairs are wired to generate a whole new range of quantitative data.

In addition to recognizing and tracking movement of instruments used, the chairs are equipped to collect data on factors like heart rate and blood oxygen levels to help monitor stress levels in real-time. They have the potential to become standalone laboratories for studying procedural effectiveness as well as how different individuals experience stress and how resilience to stress relates to health.

De-identified data about all aspects of care also feed larger data sets accessible to researchers at the school as well as outside collaborators. We believe that pooling this type of information across schools will help accelerate the advancement of precision medicine on a greater scale.

Instant Data Collection

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is commonly used to track products in retail stores or allow drivers to pay tolls without stopping to pay cash. It has also recently been introduced to medical settings. We are developing new applications for it to ensure quality care as well as improve upon it.

In the Center for Precision Dental Medicine, tags are attached to dental instruments, and soon, to wearable IDs for both patients and providers. It captures all activity in the clinic without interrupting student learning or patient care.

From the flow of patients through the waiting room down to the most subtle movement of handheld instruments used in a patient’s mouth, we are capturing details large and small. We can even measure date and time of equipment sterilization. This objective information ensures better care for our patients, better instruction for our students, and enables research to bring innovations and improved health outcomes to the entire field.

Digital Dentistry

Within the Center, we have a lab for computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) of dental restorations, such as crowns, bridges, and dentures.

Through this technology, becoming increasingly common in the field, digital scanning of the mouth and software for design replaces much of the traditional methods to make restorations, which rely on impressions and casts which are uncomfortable for patients, time-consuming to create, and produce variable results.

In our digital design lab, computer-aided design is fully operational and in-house milling will come very soon.

When fully implemented into the clinical setting, the student will scan the full arch, design the restoration, and in five hours the patient will be able to walk out the door with a permanent custom restoration.

We continue to explore other areas for digital dentistry, which will involve augmented reality as well as other technologies on the horizon.

Data-Driven Care

We see a future where clinicians will soon have hundreds, if not thousands, of parameters to consider when planning a patient’s treatment for the best possible outcome.

And even in our clinics, the scale of data is too large to be addressed by a human brain. Fortunately, rapidly-advancing machine learning can help us complete the picture and ensure the best results. De-identified data about the patient, dentist, and instruments are also being used for research. We believe that pooling this type of information will help accelerate the advancement of precision medicine on a greater scale.

Intelligent machines will also advise on preventative equipment maintenance, as well as just-in-time inventory replacement without human monitoring.

Expansive Benefits

Besides providing rich opportunities for instruction, the College of Dental Medicine’s data will be useful in other areas, like bioinformatics research. For example, researchers might compare providers who use the same instruments to perform the same procedure, but in a different sequence, to see if either practice produces a better outcome. With such a wide array of data-producing elements in the practice space, creative applications of it are as expansive and varied as the research it makes possible.

Technology is also allowing us to monitor things like instrument sterilization, in turn ensuring infection control, critical to any practice.

Ultimately, technology and the generation of data from providers, patients, supplies, instruments, and chairs have the potential to improve healthcare for us all.