AI is poised to have an outrageous impact in the field of dentistry

Think back to the last time you sat in the dental chair and were told you had a cavity. The scenario probably went something like this: The dentist pulled up your X-ray, pointed to a gray spot on your X-ray, and said, “This probably needs filling before it gets bigger.”

If you’re like most patients, you probably had trouble distinguishing the monochrome gradations on your X-ray. Is that a cavity or just a stain on your tooth, you may have wondered. Maybe you asked for more explanation, or maybe you bit your tongue, accepted the diagnosis and planned the filling.

This uncertainty is probably something we’ve all experienced at the dentist. And accounts like that of the familiar Reader’s Digest news reporter going to 50 different dentists and getting 50 different diagnoses certainly doesn’t make the experience any easier to swallow.

The vast majority of dental professionals are reputable and honest, but understanding and trusting a diagnosis remains a challenge. However, the patient’s experience in the dental chair is changing and the patient’s trust deficit may soon be narrowing – thanks to artificial intelligence.

Recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, AI algorithms can now help your dentist detect and track oral health problems with sensitivity and precision equal to — and often better than — that of the human eye. The technology is a win-win for patients and dentists alike, promising to bring greater accuracy, consistency and transparency to a medical field long plagued by patiently distrust

Why now and why dentistry?

Over the past 10 years, the use of AI in healthcare has exploded. According to Deloitte75% of large healthcare organizations were strong enough about the future of technology to invest $50 million or more of their R&D budget in AI-related projects in 2019 alone.

Currently, AI plays a behind-the-scenes role in most medical fields, where it is applied to understand and classify clinical documentation and organizing administrative workflows† It is also increasingly being used to perform various radiological functions, including detecting diseases and other medical abnormalities.

However, there are a number of reasons why AI will have an inordinate impact in the field of dentistry.

Unlike other areas of care, where X-rays are captured only to diagnose the cause of a specific condition, most dental patients receive x-rays to monitor their oral health and inform healthcare providers. As a result, there are more x-rays of healthy and unhealthy teeth than any other form of x-ray. This huge volume of available images makes it possible to train highly accurate machine learning (ML) algorithms.

Just as ML algorithms are trained to recognize people by exposure to countless images of faces, ML algorithms exposed to millions of dental X-rays can detect oral disease more accurately than the human eye. This ability of AI/ML software to distinguish healthy from unhealthy teeth ensures diagnostic consistency among dental care providers for the first time. And because X-rays are used more often in everyday dental care than in general medicine, the impact of the technology could be greater than in other areas of healthcare.

The dentist’s role in reading X-rays is also different from other fields of medicine. Fields such as pulmonology, orthopedics, and urology typically have dedicated radiologists who work with a specialist to complete and analyze the recommended imaging.

In dentistry, however, dentists themselves play that role, often in addition to acting as entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs, not to mention surgeon and dentist. As such, AI is becoming another tool on the dental scale, improving diagnostic accuracy. In addition, unlike other fields of medical radiology, dentists do not have to worry that their jobs will be replaced – although the diagnosis can be expanded by the computer, care remains in the hands of the dentist.

AI can also virtually eliminate the patient trust problem. With the ability to measure and detect things like tooth decay, tartar and root abscesses down to the millimeter – and track disease progression over time – AI can ensure that no common conditions are missed or a misdiagnosed. Annotating dental X-rays can also help patients better understand exactly what their X-ray is showing them, helping to alleviate dental anxiety and immediately provide a real-time second opinion that validates what their dentist is telling them.

Thinking back to the last time you sat in the dental chair, just imagine how much easier it would have been to understand your dentist’s diagnosis with this visual aid, not to mention your confidence in science. that a computer is involved in verifying it.

Progressive dental practices are already rolling out this technology, and it has been met with enthusiasm. Sage Dentalfor example, a dental services organization operating in Florida and Georgia uses AI-assisted technology to ensure quality and consistency across suppliers in its 82 practices.

It turns out that AI-backed studies encourage patients to treat dental problems sooner than they otherwise could, which is critical because dentistry only gets more expensive and more comprehensive if left untreated. And while the drive to use AI was consistency between dentists and offices, the result was a dramatic improvement in patient satisfaction and ultimately in patient care.

It is clear that long-term patient confidence will be improved by the impact of AI on diagnostics. By setting higher universal standards of care, AI can ensure consistent quality outcomes. When that happens, patient confidence becomes intrinsic to dentistry. A patient may not like the diagnosis and may not choose to treat the diagnosis, but he or she must rely on the diagnosis.

Paving the way for patient-centric AI in general healthcare

Consumers are already familiar with the use of AI in many of the technologies we use every day. Who has ever been impressed by AI’s ability to put together a playlist of new music based on your favorite songs, or identify that elusive face in the photo you’ve uploaded to social media? ?

For the larger medical industry, dentistry is poised to play a similar role, helping patients develop the same level of familiarity and comfort with AI-assisted diagnostics.

We are approaching a time – possibly sooner than we might expect – when AI technologies in the dental office will not only identify immediate dental problems, but also anticipate, through analysis of medical records, how these concerns could affect a patient’s overall health.


Ophir Tanz is the founder and CEO of Pearl dr. Cindy Roark is the SVP and Chief Clinical Officer at Sage Dental

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