Artificial intelligence, or AI, was once something only dreamed up by science fiction writers and Hollywood movie makers. While, on one hand, it might still seem foreign or even scary for computers to mimic and read human behaviors and perform tasks that even we can’t, the science is already here.
Think about how many times a day you use Siri or Alexa. Or what about when your phone told you the time it would take to get to your next destination without you plugging your destination into the map? This is artificial intelligence. It has become so seamlessly integrated into our daily lives that many times we forget that it’s there and learning from our unique behaviors.
AI has also become incorporated in our daily work, too. While you may think that rocket scientist or robotics engineers are the only ones using it, the reality is that it has seeped into every industry—even dentistry. Before you become concerned that those here at Dr. Marchbanks’ office will be replaced by robots, we want to bring you up to speed on all the fascinating ways AI is advancing the practice of dentistry and making it safer and more comfortable for the you, the patient.
Diagnosing a cavity is one of the most used skills of an oral health professional. However, even though practitioners spend years in school learning how to spot a problem and then years in practice, it’s still a challenging diagnostic to make with just the human eye.
Some studies suggest that 20-40% of cavities go untreated due to going unnoticed. Through the use of artificial intelligence, technology today assists dentists in detecting cavities and areas that could develop into a cavity in the near future. Computers can now analyze x-rays and are able to instantaneously compare them to millions of other images it has “learned” with. This allows the computer to pick up on trends that may go unnoticed by a provider.
Computer can then alert your dentist to a problem tooth and allow them to make the decision whether to treat it or continue to watch it for future problems.
It’s expected that this same technology will soon be applied to more aggressive periodontal diseases and will actually be able to predict early signs or bone loss or changes in bone density. It will also be used in the treatment and monitoring of oral cancers. While these examples are still in the works, it will progress quickly thanks to the work already done on cavity prevention.
Improvements in data
One of the many benefits of AI is the ability for computers to “read” and “analyze” copious amounts of complicated data in a fraction of the time a human could. Having more reliable and current data to reference, dentists will be able to make streamline decision making while also reducing errors.
AI can also scan all records in a single practice to look for trends in the patient population. This includes looking through radiology reports and other notes. In addition, this can be integrated with electronic health systems already available in most offices to ensure scheduling and reminders for routine tasks are always aligned. This is a win for both the patient and the dentist.
Is the future here?
While great improvements have been made in AI within the field of dentistry, it still not yet been widely adopted, and experts believe its tipping point is nearing on the horizon.
A close “sister” to AI is augmented reality (AR), which is also being developed to work in tandem with AI in dentistry. Augmented reality is predicted to work mainly with complex implant procedures. Couple that with the data mining of AI, and dentists will be able to determine which type of implant is best of the patient while monitoring changes in the bones.
In order to fully embrace AI and AR potential, dentists must become more intentional about uploading complete and compressive data on their patients. While AI is a technology of the future, it is still dependent on humans to input their data. And as data collection grows, so will the breadth of AI.