Dental informatics specialists look for ways to use computers and new technologies to enhance the practice of dentistry. Dental informatics specialists create theoretical models that help dental researchers test new ideas, systems and approaches.
A model for oral cancer, for example, would include information about symptoms of the disease and biological processes that affect cancer growth. Tools built on this model can help dentists diagnose patients quickly and accurately. Researchers can use the model to test theories about how to treat disease.
Dental informaticists also:
- Design and implement computer applications that provide dental researchers, educators and dentists with easier access to patient information. One ongoing challenge in dental informatics is building a computer-based charting system for dentists that can effectively incorporate a patient’s entire dental record. Approximately 75% of dental practices use an electronic dental record to manage clinical information and 15% are paperless.
- Implement systems to ensure that they operate correctly and are easy for dentists and their staff to use. Many early systems built by dental informatics professionals are still not in regular use, because they are too expensive to install or too complex to operate.
- Evaluate systems to determine if they are actually helping to improve patient outcomes, reduce costs or improve practice efficiency.
The field of dental informatics is only about 20 years old, but it has great potential to improve dental research, education and patient care. Dental informaticians study a range of important issues, including:
- Creating an electronic oral health record
- Developing devices that enable dentists to record patient information while examining the patient
- Enabling teledentistry
- Compiling geographic information for dental epidemiology studies
- Developing standardized vocabularies for dental diagnosis and treatment
- Supporting genetic studies in oral health
- Developing software for dental education
- Creating virtual reality simulators that let dental students practice clinical skills
- Developing automated systems to simplify dental office management
Experts in dental informatics typically work in a university, dental school, government agency or research organization associated with a large corporation.
Dental informaticians work on long-term research projects that require patience and attention to detail.
They usually work as part of a team that may include researchers from other disciplines, as well as technicians and students. They must keep informed about developments in related areas of computer science, information science, cognitive science, telecommunications, linguistics, engineering and other areas, so they can find ways to apply new developments to dental research and practice.
Salary Range and Outlook
Salaries for dental informaticians will vary according to where they work and the type of work they do. In addition, degrees influence salaries—whether an informatician has a master’s degree or doctorate and whether he or she has a professional degree in dentistry as well.
Dental informatics is a subdomain within biomedical informatics that requires extensive education in one or more academic areas. Some dental informaticians train as dentists and receive their informatics training in postdoctoral programs or enroll in advanced degree programs after they have gotten their dental education.
Many colleges and universities offer informatics degrees and have programs and training opportunities in dentistry and other health care disciplines through which students can focus their training.
The American Medical Informatics Association maintains a comprehensive list of academic and training programs in informatics.
- American Dental Association
- American Dental Education Association
- American Medical Informatics Association