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How artificial intelligence is shaping dentistry in 2021

With increasing digitalisation, AI technology will continuously influence all areas of life, including dentistry. (Image: everything possible/Shutterstock)

Mon. 31. May 2021


The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) has always stirred up both intrigue and intimidation; the fear of the unknown is strong, but with the rise of today’s technology AI is no longer just a topic for discussion—it’s already here. Algorithms, mathematical calculations, computerised data collection methods and an enormous amount of reproducible data are the basis of machine learning, a category of AI that is helping to improve areas of dental care in ways once unimaginable.

Healthcare has a simple rule to follow: provide patients with the best and most responsible care possible. Problems with the current model of dental care have been identified in the past, and they are becoming increasingly pertinent and in need of correction. Traditional methods need the implementation of AI to benefit both the patient and the dental professional, with advancement extending into finer areas of care.

The unpredictability resulting from the pandemic has highlighted the crucial need for access to emergency dental care that is faltering for many owing to various factors such as demographics, financial considerations and severe illness. A solution has been found in AI-supported software, allowing patients to self-monitor while sitting in the comfort of their own homes. The model enables the patient to take pictures of his or her oral problems using a smartphone. These are then scanned into the app which can identify problems with teeth and gingivae and relay the details to both the patient and the dental provider. This streamlines the consultation and treatment planning process and the app can even extend to advice on the management of the presenting oral condition, depending on its type. The app also provides education and information on the condition in question, instils self-awareness and allows the patient to have control over his or her oral health status. The overall impact of just the one model of AI mentioned here is already pointing towards easier access, improved patient education, increased production and reduced dental care costs.

At the end of a consultation and before treatment, a diagnosis needs to be made. An improvement in diagnostic ability is a benefit for both patients and professionals. AI computing allows the input of the patient’s history, complaint and clinical findings, and it can then offer the most probable diagnosis based on evidence. Several studies have shown that using AI has led to more specificity and sensitivity in usage when compared with results offered by a dental professional. Using this model of AI reduces human errors, helps to simplify complicated presentations of an oral condition and enables proper and targeted patient care. AI is also being used as the gold standard for identifying the risk development of oral cancers, even in their pre-stages. The refinement of this application of AI could lead to a proper and precise method for diagnosing cancers before they are even confirmed or visible to the eye.

The most up-and-coming use of AI is in the orthodontic field of dentistry, where it is being implemented throughout the process: beginning from diagnosis, using genetic algorithms that aid in predicting sizes of unerupted teeth, and continuing to treatment and follow-up monitoring. Virtual models and 3D scans are exceptionally useful tools in assessing dental abnormalities and even craniofacial abnormalities, allowing devices such as aligners to be precise and treatment approach to be customised; the combination of these aids is revolutionising orthodontic treatment.

Coupling AI with radiology, such as in magnetic resonance imaging and CBCT, allows the most minute deviations of normal structures to be taken into account and identified, which would have been otherwise impossible. This opens up an opportunity to catch a problem in the early stages and also to provide precise working parameters in smaller fields, such as in proximal caries.

With the use of CAD/CAM, AI methods are able to design onlays, inlays, crowns and bridges with greater accuracy, and design considerations can be customised to each particular case; therefore, this is a crucial tool for prosthetic dentistry.

In the field of periodontics, AI implementation has been utilised to efficiently categorise patients into those with chronic or aggressive periodontitis based on their previous and existing immune profile. This streamlines the treatment by accurately providing a diagnosis on which dental experts can focus.

Apart from the contributions of AI methods to direct patient care, the support it is able to offer dentists and dental professionals has truly transformed the idea of the typical dental office and chair. AI is being used in dental offices as voice commands for tasks that are a hindrance, can be interrupting and even taxing when repetitious for both dentists and the related staff. Enabling tasks to be hands-free not only improves efficiency in practice but also limits contamination, operative time in one sitting, and can be extended to eventually integrate more useful features within the dental chair—for example, monitoring breathing rate, anxiety levels and measuring weight and height.

The extension of this method of care and practice can start from when the patient is at home, by giving access to emergency dental services as discussed earlier, as well as with the use of teledentistry allowing patients to receive a certain amount of care before reaching the dental office. Scheduling and rescheduling appointments and follow-ups, managing insurance and reimbursement claims, taking a detailed medical history, dental history and history of habits—these can all be taken care of before seeing the dental professional. This allows dental experts to have the full picture before they even see the patient, reduces time and is a more streamlined approach to patient care.

Overall, the most exciting part of AI is innovation. Being able to statistically offer studies and examples of how it is already having an impact on the dental workforce in terms of efficiency, proper standardisation and precision, are transformative on a larger scale. Unarguably, the advancements in AI are reconstructing and remodelling the foundation of healthcare in a manner that leaves little room for opposition. The possibilities are endless, and where AI takes us is only up to science-supported imagination.

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