The future of dental care

AI artifical intelligenceJana Denzel explores artificial intelligence and the role it will play in the world of dentistry.

Movies such as The Terminator and I, Robot hauntingly illustrate futuristic worlds shaped by technological innovations that arose from artificial intelligence (AI). Unfortunately, movies such as these didn’t leave us with such positive feelings of accepting AI into our world! However, that scientific-fiction AI is what’s known as ‘artificial general intelligence’. In other words, computer intelligence almost identical from human intelligence – and, to date, it remains very much a fantasy.

‘Narrow AI’ is the label that scientists give to the AI that’s incorporated into our world today. This is because it’s useful in performing highly repetitive and specific tasks. For example, serving every member of your household a customised cup of coffee, scheduling your day, sorting and even route planning.

These products of AI are designed to make our days easier. They save us from performing tasks that once took up a third of our daily life.

More than saving us time, we can see that AI is revolutionising the world around us. Driverless cars make their way through traffic and computer speech becomes indistinguishable from human.

Algorithms

Broken down, AI is simply a set of algorithms that work together to fulfil goals set by humans. Computer scientists ‘train’ these algorithms by feeding them tons of data – a process called machine learning.

The algorithms learn to recognise patterns in information. This ultimately allows the AI to accurately categorise and make predictions about how we show it.

Over the past 10 years, a wide variety of artificial intelligence has made its way into our lives. From natural language processing powers voice assistants like Alexa and Siri to Google Maps using predictive analytics to determine how long our journey will be.

There is, in fact, practically no part of modern life that is not now or will not soon be touched by AI in one way or another. This includes the world of dentistry.

Behold

In 2017, when I was a dental student, I had a complex case of a patient that needed a lot of treatment. To confirm my treatment plan was correct I asked a professor to view the radiographs and treatment plan. However, when he did so, he picked up complications on the radiograph I had missed and changed my treatment plan.

The next day I went in, I had another professor view the case. They had different interpretations from the radiographs and told me to stick with my initial treatment plan.

This incident showed me that, whether we like it or not, human decision-making has the flaw of subjectivity. There is an inconsistency in readings from dentist to dentist on the same radiographs and thus a need for a reliable, consistent system to be in place.

Fast-forward four years and I am now the chief dental officer at Behold.ai, aiming to incorporate AI into dental diagnosis.

Behold.ai is one of the first AI medical diagnosis companies in the world to use machine deep-learning to process annotated images by senior radiologists into their algorithm. After training their algorithm with thousands of annotated X-rays, it can now pick up abnormalities with superhuman speed and precision. This is more consistent, accurate and reliable than any experienced human clinician.

Reassurance

We can incorporate this same technology into the dental world in our diagnosis and treatment planning stages. This will give our patient more trust as they see that a ‘second set of eyes’ have reviewed the radiographs, especially when the AI system has been proved to be more reliable than from any human clinician.

When we have that reassurance that our diagnosis is right with the help of our AI back-up, we can be more confident to deliver a treatment plan and create better relationships with our patients. This consistency in radiographic readings can then be achieved through all dentists using AI. In turn, we can all regain patient trust and change the collective outlook on dentists once and for all.

Then, we can focus on preventive care instead of our dental system treating people who need restorations and extractions.

The future

In conclusion, I believe that if we embrace what AI has to offer – such as non-subjective, faster, more accurate diagnosis, auto-charting and predictive analytics – we can embark onto a road that promises so much more. This includes true holistic healthcare, improved access to dentistry, and better quality of life for us dentists ourselves!

I can assure you that those that adapt to these new technologies will find they are more accurate, profitable and trusted by patients. I truly believe that AI will have a huge role in the future of dentistry.


This article was first published in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue of Dentistry magazine here.

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