Using AI Safely in a Dental Practice

June 20, 2024
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Anne Genge

Anne Genge is on a mission to make dentistry safer online. With over two decades of experience, Anne has become a leading expert and trainer in privacy & cybersecurity for dental practices.

Dentists – Be Excited, But Be Aware

It’s easy to get excited about AI in dentistry. As dental practices continue to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline operations and enhance patient care, it is essential to understand how to use this technology safely. While AI offers many benefits, such as improving diagnostic accuracy, creating efficient treatment plans, and enhancing patient communications, it poses significant risks to patient privacy and data security.

Real Risks

These risks include potential data breaches like the one already experienced by some ChatGPT users in March 2023.  According to OpenAI’s investigation, the titles of active users’ chat history and the first message of a newly created conversation were exposed in the data breach. The bug also exposed payment-related information belonging to 1.2% of ChatGPT Plus subscribers, including first and last name, email address, payment address, payment card expiration date, and the last four digits of the customer’s card number.1

AI Used in Cyber Attacks

Additionally, the broader healthcare sector has seen AI used maliciously to enhance cyberattacks. For instance, AI has been employed to create sophisticated phishing emails and polymorphic malware that can evade traditional security measures. This has led to increased concerns about the potential for AI to be weaponized against healthcare organizations, making it easier for attackers to access large volumes of sensitive patient data​​. 2 You can see how AI could easily be used for scams in dentistry as well since there is a heavy reliance on email.

Voice Cloning Scams

Deepfake and AI voice scams are already a problem. Watch below to see what I was able to create by dictating oly 40 seconds of my voice into a piece of software, giving it an instruction to “create a video about AI voice scams”. This software is available to anyone. You can easily see how this is tricking people into scams. Training to recognize these new scams is critical.

Another concern is misuse of patient information, and biases in AI algorithms, which can lead to incorrect or unfair treatment recommendations. By addressing these concerns through robust privacy measures and strategic risk management, dental practices can safely integrate AI into their workflows.

Benefits of AI in Dental Practices

AI has the potential to revolutionize dental care by offering numerous advantages:

  1. Improved Diagnostics: AI algorithms can analyze dental images more accurately and quickly than traditional methods, identifying issues like cavities, gum disease, and oral cancers at an early stage.
  2. Efficient Treatment Plans: AI can assist in creating personalized treatment plans based on patient data, ensuring optimal care and outcomes.
  3. Enhanced Patient Communication: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can handle routine inquiries, schedule appointments, and provide post-treatment care instructions, freeing up staff for more complex tasks.
  4. Administrative Efficiency: Automating administrative tasks such as billing, record-keeping, and contract creation can save time and reduce errors.

Privacy Concerns and Anonymization

When using AI in dental practices, protecting patient privacy is paramount. Here are some key strategies to ensure data privacy:

  1. Anonymization: Before feeding patient data into AI systems, ensure that vendors  all personal health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII)is removed or anonymized. This process involves stripping data of any details that could be used to identify an individual, such as names, addresses, and social insurance numbers. Anonymized data helps protect patient privacy while allowing AI to generate desired output and/or analyze trends and patterns. It sounds complex, but it can be as simple as inputting a fake name and contact info when generating the document with the application, and then using a simple “find and replace” function in Microsoft Word afterward to customize it so that you can still use the technology safely.
  1. Data Minimization: Collect only the data necessary for the AI application. Avoid collecting extraneous information that increases the risk of privacy breaches. This is a best practice and is part of privacy principles in most provinces anyway.
  2. Secure Storage and Transmission: Use encryption to protect data both at rest and in transit. Ensure that all data storage systems comply with industry standards and regulations, such as PIPEDA and Provincial Health Privacy Laws.
  3. Access Controls: Implement strict access controls to limit who can view and manipulate patient data. Use role-based access systems to ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive information. Implement 2-factor authentication and ensure audit trails are available wherever possible.

Risk Management

Despite the benefits, AI also introduces risks that need careful management:

  1. Bias and Accuracy: AI systems can inadvertently introduce biases if trained on unrepresentative data sets. Application vendors should regularly audit AI algorithms for accuracy and fairness, and ensure they are trained on diverse and comprehensive data.
  2. Transparency: Use AI systems that offer transparency in their decision-making processes. Understand how AI arrives at its conclusions and be prepared to explain these processes to patients if necessary. Consent forms for the use of AI with patients might be a good idea to consider. Check with your provincial college and privacy laws.
  3. Continual Monitoring: Regularly monitor AI systems for performance and anomalies. Set up protocols to quickly address any issues that arise and inform vendors, ensuring minimal disruption to patient care and practice operations.
  4. Compliance: Stay informed about the latest regulations and guidelines regarding AI in healthcare. Ensure your practice complies with all relevant laws, college guidelines, and ethical standards.

Practical Applications of AI

  1. Contract Creation: AI can assist in drafting treatment plans, contracts, and legal documents. To use this safely, ensure that the AI tool you use complies with data protection regulations and anonymizes any patient information involved in the process.
  2. Patient Communications: AI-driven chatbots can handle patient inquiries and follow-ups. Ensure these systems are secure and that any patient data they access, or store is anonymized and encrypted.
  3. Treatment Plans: AI can analyze patient records and imaging to suggest treatment plans. Always review AI-generated plans with a human expert to ensure accuracy and appropriateness for the patient.

Looking Forward

Integrating AI into a dental practice offers significant advantages, from improved diagnostics to enhanced administrative efficiency. However, it is crucial to address privacy concerns and manage risks associated with AI usage.

By anonymizing data, implementing strict access controls, ensuring transparency, and staying compliant with regulations, dental practices can safely harness the power of AI to provide better patient care and streamline operations. Embracing these strategies will help build trust with patients and ensure that the benefits of AI are fully realized without compromising privacy or security.

Here is a checklist of things to consider:

When considering the implementation of AI applications in a dental practice, it’s crucial to evaluate various aspects to ensure they meet your needs while maintaining privacy, security, and efficiency. Below is a comprehensive checklist to guide dentists in evaluating AI apps:

1. Privacy and Data Security

  • Data Anonymization: Ensure the AI app anonymizes patient data to protect privacy.
  • Compliance: Verify that the app complies with relevant regulations.
  • Encryption: Confirm that data is encrypted both in transit and at rest.
  • Access Controls: Check if the app has robust access controls to limit who can view and manipulate data.

2. Functionality and Performance

  • Diagnostic Accuracy: Assess the app’s ability to accurately diagnose conditions compared to traditional methods.
  • Integration: Ensure the app can integrate smoothly with your existing practice management software and electronic health records (EHR) systems.
  • Ease of Use: Evaluate the user interface for ease of use and efficiency in a clinical setting.
  • Scalability: Determine if the app can scale according to your practice’s needs.

3. Vendor Reliability

  • Reputation: Research the vendor’s reputation and history in the healthcare sector.
  • Support and Training: Check the availability of customer support and training for using the app.
  • Updates and Maintenance: Ensure the vendor provides regular updates and maintenance to address bugs and improve functionality.

4. Risk Management

  • Bias and Fairness: Evaluate whether the AI algorithms are free from biases that could affect patient care.
  • Error Handling: Understand the app’s error detection and handling mechanisms.
  • Monitoring and Auditing: Ensure there are features for regular monitoring and auditing of the AI’s performance.

5. Cost and Value

  • Pricing Model: Understand the pricing model (e.g., subscription, per-use) and ensure it fits within your budget.
  • ROI Analysis: Conduct a return on investment (ROI) analysis to see if the app provides sufficient value for its cost.
  • Trial Period: Check if the vendor offers a trial period to test the app in your practice before making a long-term commitment.

6. Patient Impact

  • Patient Communication: Assess how the app improves communication with patients.
  • Patient Consent: Ensure there are protocols for obtaining patient consent for AI use.
  • Outcome Tracking: Verify if the app can track patient outcomes to measure effectiveness.

7. Legal and Ethical Considerations

  • Liability: Understand who is liable in case of errors made by the AI app.
  • Transparency: Ensure the app’s decision-making process is transparent and explainable to both clinicians and patients.
  • Ethical Use: Evaluate whether the use of the AI app aligns with ethical standards in dentistry.

By following this checklist, dentists can make informed decisions when selecting AI applications, ensuring they enhance practice efficiency while safeguarding patient data and maintaining high standards of care.


  1. Security Week – ChatGPT Data Breach Confirmed as Security Firm Warns of Vulnerable Component Exploitation
  • The HIPAA Journal – Why AI Will Increase Healthcare Data Breaches

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