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Posted August 15, 2017

Like most of us in this industry, I have one foot in dentistry and one foot in “real life.”  One of my biggest goals is to keep balanced, so I don’t lose my footing in either world.

Each world is busy, so I’m always on the balls of my feet, it seems. I’m the mother of 13-year-old twin girls. I love spending time with them, as well as with friends and other family. As CEO of DentalPost, I’m also passionate about building our dental community to be as useful and innovative as possible. To achieve these objectives, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to be more and more efficient.  Every day is so precious; I want to make the most of work time, so I can spend important time with friends and family.

You never know where those efforts to streamline work will take you. It might be a dental conference to learn or to teach. It might be business or entrepreneurial opportunities to get new perspectives on technology and innovation. One thing all these events have in common is networking. That might sound like a cliché, but I’m here to tell you, the connections you make are valuable. And they don’t have to be within our industry. I learn so much from entrepreneurs and business leaders from all kinds of companies. Sometimes the only thing they have in common with dentistry is that the attendees brushed their teeth before coming to the conference.

I recently stepped out of the dental conference world again to see what I could learn and bring back to our community. This time, Lauren, a friend I had met at the Inc. 5000 conference two years ago, invited me to an event I’d never heard of: Cannes Lions.  Lauren, the owner of a marketing firm in New York City and a fellow member of the Entrepreneurs Organization, knew about Lions, and it sounded amazing. How could I say no? Wait, I wasn’t even sure how to say “Cannes!” But I figured it out (it’s like “can”), and off I went: flying through Paris first, then Nice, then taking a car to Cannes, on the French Riviera.

You may have heard of the Cannes Film Festival, but that’s not the only interesting draw for this gorgeous city. It’s a stunning tourist destination. But I wasn’t a tourist, exactly. Believe me when I say it was impossible to leave classes to check out the area because the information was too addicting and fascinating! Trends shaping our world right now are happening at lightning speed.

Now, I mentioned I’d never heard of Cannes Lions. So imagine my surprise to learn that thousands of people from almost 100 countries were there. This conference brought together people working in creative communications, entertainment, design and tech to look at these global trends. At the root of everything, I learned, is creativity. The big message of Cannes Lions is that creativity is a powerful force for business, for change and for good in the world. I can definitely get behind that idea.

Just some of the companies educating and sponsoring at the conference were some that are – or are on their way to becoming – household names: Facebook, Spotify, Shutterstock, Snapchat, King of Candy Crush and Samsung, as well as many other companies you and I have never heard of. Lions covered health, innovation, film, music, creativity and communications, among many other topics.

These companies are changing the way we will buy products in the future; they are also already changing our behavior and that of our children. Some ways are for the better and some are not. Speakers talked a lot about privacy, human behaviors, what the normal is, and what it will become.

You may be saying, Well, that’s interesting, Tonya, but why do we care about this? We need to care because these companies are shaping our lives right now, and they will for the foreseeable future. Dentistry will be affected from our communication styles, how we interact and how we identify ourselves in this digital world. That may sound futuristic, but in reality, it isn’t.  It’s right now.

Since this was my first Cannes Lions, my goal was to learn what I could bring back to DentalPost and our dental community to make our lives better. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say we have no time left for our friends, our families and even ourselves. But if we can do our jobs better and faster – and still get the highest results – we can spend more time on what means the most to us.  Sign me up for that!

New trends will no doubt help us gain that extra time. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and mastering emotional intelligence already are crossing over into dentistry. This year, a practice in Minnesota started testing virtual reality as a way to ease pain and anxiety for dental patients. Imagine whisking a patient far away from an extraction to a peaceful place with minimal pain.

Or how about a  “smart” toothbrush that collects data as it cleans, and sends information to the cloud so that artificial intelligence can analyze it and pass it on to dentists. This could soon mean very precise, same-day dental treatment that eventually could result in fewer office visits and more affordable dental care.

And dentists are now being coached in emotional intelligence, so patients clearly know their doctors genuinely care not only about doing things right, but also doing right by their patients. Whoever thought that technology and innovation could be used to prove something as important and meaningful as concern for patients!

The new technology and trends can also help with prepping for boards, CE or even practicing tricky procedures before moving on to humans.  Now, I absolutely do not see virtual reality or artificial intelligence replacing clinicians. An emotional human component must always be present in dentistry.

But it might not be that way in other parts of our world. When I saw a presentation at Cannes Lions from a London designer and filmmaker, Keiichi Matsuda, on “hyper-reality,” it really stopped me in my tracks. His work – and you can click on his video here – dissolves boundaries between the virtual and the physical. He works with video, architecture and interactive media to show a completely new perspective. He imagines how technology with wearables will integrate into our everyday lives.

On the one hand, it provides all kinds of conveniences – instantaneous information and research, tons of choices, reviews and even advice. On the other hand, could this information overload monitor our every move and control what we do? Could advertisers barge in and influence us without our even knowing it? How do we know we can trust what we “virtually” see?

Keiichi emphasized that we could get used to this technology, with our environments saturated in media. There’s no other word; it’s pure saturation. I understand we could get used to it, but I fear it could lead to addiction. I mean how many of us already check our text messages, emails and Facebook feeds without even thinking about it? How healthy would it be to have images and messages bombarding us everywhere, all the time, and if not controlling, at least influencing almost everything we do? Ethics is definitely an aspect of this evolving technology that must be considered. Privacy is a big deal to all of us. Does that go by the wayside as these new technologies grow?

One positive I can see is the use of algorithms to analyze what people can do to achieve optimal health. For instance, if you want to quit smoking, algorithms can identify the likeliness of you being able to quit. Medical and/or psychological practitioners can use that data to create ways to suppress or even eliminate your need to smoke.

The dental industry will have to be very selective in how some of these new technologies and global trends are introduced into our world. Making smart choices begins – as always – with learning. That’s why I believe it is so important to take every opportunity to educate myself on these technologies and trends. Yes, it does keep me on the balls of my feet, always looking for innovations that will make our community better. But the reward is having the time to put my feet up and enjoy my personal time. That’s absolutely worth it!