The transformative power of AI in dentistry

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Deep learning models can tackle massive amounts of information and learn the distinctive characteristics of specic types of documents to produce new, original work that is similar but not identical to the examples they have encountered. (Image: Summit Art Creations/Shutterstock)

Tue. 27. February 2024


When we think of artificial intelligence (AI), our minds often conjure up images of sentient humanoid robots from iconic science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. More recently, films like Her have explored the concept of AI agents possessing consciousness. However, today’s discussion delves into the use of AI in dentistry, where practical applications are changing the landscape of oral healthcare.

AI 2.0 (3Shape) edentulous scan. (Image: 3Shape)

AI 2.0 (3Shape) edentulous scan. (Image: 3Shape)

Defining AI in dentistry

Before we dive deeper into the profound impacts of AI in dentistry, let us establish a working definition. In practical terms, AI is a field of computing in which advanced algorithms access extensive data sets to solve problems in ways reminiscent of human cognition. IBM aptly characterises AI as the utilisation of computers and machines to emulate human problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.

AI in everyday life

Many people are unaware that they interact with AI on a daily basis. If you have ever used voice-activated virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant or received personalised recommendations on platforms like Netflix, YouTube or Spotify, you have already experienced the influence of AI. Beyond these personal interactions, AI plays a pivotal role in various aspects of our professional lives.

For instance, AI is the driving force behind automated speech recognition and closed captioning, enhancing accessibility for individuals with hearing impairments. In the realm of online customer service, AI-powered chatbots efficiently assist users on e-commerce websites, making shopping experiences smoother and more efficient. Moreover, AI excels in image categorisation and analysis, a capability we often encounter in apps like Apple Photos or during medical image assessments at healthcare facilities.

The evolution of AI

The recent surge in AI’s prominence can be attributed to several factors. One crucial factor is the exponential growth in computational power, computers continuously becoming more potent and capable of handling complex AI tasks. Another pivotal development is the unprecedented access to massive data sets, consisting of millions of documents and images. Additionally, the emergence of deep learning networks has revolutionised AI by allowing it to process vast amounts of information, often derived from extensive online data sources.

Traditionally, software developers created specific algorithms tailored to solving well-defined problems. However, deep learning, a subset of machine learning, which is itself a subset of AI, introduced a dynamic approach. Deep learning models are adept at handling substantial data sets and can learn the unique characteristics of various document types, such as images, essays or strings of computer code. These models then generate new, original content that closely resembles the examples they have encountered, all with minimal human intervention.

Dr Rune Fisker, senior vice president of product strategy at the dental scanning and software company 3Shape, has underscored the significance of deep learning in AI’s advancement. He noted that deep learning demands less development effort compared with traditional approaches while delivering significantly higher performance. The societal and other implications of this are profound, as it will make computers considerably more intelligent.

 The implications for dentistry

But what does this mean for the field of dentistry? The potential applications of AI in dentistry are vast and transformative. While AI is not a panacea, ignoring its potential would be a missed opportunity. AI is poised to become the next evolution in the dental profession, much like how digital technology revolutionised dentistry by surpassing the limitations of analogue methods.

In our everyday lives, AI enhances our efficiency, effectiveness and predictability. In North American oral healthcare, these qualities translate into increased profit margins. Dr Fisker envisions AI-powered (computer-aided) denture design as not only technically feasible but also inevitable. The impact of AI extends to various aspects of dental care, including imaging, diagnostics and eventually design.

3Shape’s current intra-oral scanning technology, called AI 2.0, uses AI to help identify edentulous soft tissue and delineate between soft tissue, teeth and other artefacts in the mouth. Conventional intra-oral scans naturally capture everything within range of the scanner’s beam, including unhelpful images of soft tissue irrelevant to the final diagnosis or design of the final prosthesis. Using AI and deep learning, modern 3Shape scanners can intelligently differentiate between soft tissue and other, more important, intra-oral information. 3Shape’s scanning software automatically and instantly deletes this soft-tissue information, producing a cleaner, more useful final digital record of a patient’s intra-oral situation.

Before the company’s AI-powered technology was developed, technicians and clinicians needed to manually annotate the unwanted soft tissue and tongue on the initial scanning output. Over time, 3Shape accumulated a very large set of these accurately annotated scans, which it then used to train its deep learning algorithm, effectively teaching it to do the identification work human annotators had performed previously.

AI can be used to improve patient scheduling software. (Image: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock)

AI can be used to improve patient scheduling software. (Image: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock)

AI in dental imaging and diagnostics

One of the most promising applications of AI in dentistry is in dental imaging and diagnostics. Traditional dental radiographs have long been indispensable tools for diagnosis and treatment planning. However, AI is poised to take this essential aspect of dental care to new heights.

Several companies are currently developing AI tools capable of automatically detecting dental conditions by analysing dental radiographs. Pearl, an American company, gained clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration for its groundbreaking software in this area. Pearl’s AI-powered Second Opinion software has surpassed human accuracy in detecting signs of pathologies and common dental conditions in radiographs. It even excels at identifying issues that may be challenging for human dentists, such as incipient caries or early signs of periapical radiolucency. Pearl’s approach is akin to providing dentists with a second set of eyes. This paradigm shift in dental diagnostics augments the capabilities of dental professionals, offering them invaluable insights that may have been overlooked owing to human fatigue or error.

Enhancing patient care and efficiency

AI’s influence extends beyond diagnostics; it has the potential to optimise patient care and streamline dental practices. Efficient patient scheduling is vital for maximising chair time utilisation, reducing patient waiting times and optimising resource allocation. AI can determine optimal staffing levels based on expected patient loads, minimising over- or understaffing issues. It can analyse patient histories to schedule appointments effectively, ensuring that facilities are neither under-utilised nor overbooked. Algorithms can calculate appointment duration, accommodate patient preferences for appointment times and healthcare providers, monitor real-time patient flow and adjust appointment schedules accordingly. Moreover, AI can send automated reminders to patients, enabling them to reschedule or cancel appointments online, thereby reducing no-shows. By historically predicting which patients are more likely to miss appointments, facilities can proactively overbook or send reminders to improve attendance rates.

The future of AI in dentistry

The future of AI in dentistry holds immense promise. AI will be seamlessly integrated into practice management software, providing second opinions and aiding in treatment planning. Advancements in CBCT technology will offer unparalleled insights into anatomical structures, improving surgical interventions and implant placement.

Furthermore, AI will revolutionise the design of digital dentures, automating processes that were once performed manually. Currently, CAD technicians manually mark characteristic points and the outer boundaries of dentures. With AI, these processes can be automated using deep learning and extensive data sets. While this intervention may not revolutionise dentistry, it will significantly reduce the time required in denture laboratories, making the design process more efficient.

AI can assist in the design of surgical guides for implant placement. (Image: 3Shape)

AI can assist in the design of surgical guides for implant placement. (Image: 3Shape)

Dr Fisker envisions a future in which patients can instantly view accurately generated digital simulations of their final dentures and laboratories can produce 3D-printed dentures within hours. In this future, AI will substantially reduce barriers to access, enhancing the patient experience. This outcome is not just theoretically feasible; it is highly likely to become a reality in the foreseeable future.

The role of AI in denture design

To delve deeper into the potential of AI in denture design, it is crucial to understand the underlying principles. Mathematical equations and discrete anatomical landmarks already exist to delineate essential denture design factors such as tooth position, tooth size, tooth shape and gingival contours. AI has the potential to automate a significant portion of the design process by relying on established philosophies, principles, physics, anatomy and physiology that have been instrumental in dentistry for decades.


In conclusion, AI in dentistry empowers us to be more predictable, effective and precise in our practice. Rather than completely automating our workflows, it is essential to leverage AI as a powerful tool while dedicating time to validating AI-generated recommendations. This approach not only saves time but also enhances the quality of patient care, ultimately improving the lives of both patients and dental professionals.

Editorial note:

This article was published in AI dentistry—international magazine of artificial intelligence in dentistry vol. 1, issue 1/2024 Preview edition.

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