The current hype around artificial intelligence is hard to miss.
AI is making its way into our everyday lives with virtual assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. Healthcare is being touted as a vertical that will be completely transformed by AI in the coming years. From reading CT and MRI scans to assisting doctors in following the latest research, there is a lot of activity in the space.
Dentistry is no exception. In fact, Dentistry may very well be the fastest branch of medical science to adapt AI. The reasons are many.
The abundance of data in Dentistry
Patient encounters at each step of the treatment cycle generate many types of data. Booking an appointment, taking the impression of patient’s teeth for a crown, or taking the routine bitewing x-rays create potentially helpful data. And it is not just during the patient’s treatment-cycle – many types of data are also generated outside of the dental clinic. Examples include when a dentist markets his practice, or when a patient leaves a review on social media sites or other online forums. And don’t forget about the hundreds of research papers that are being published around the world. Practicing dentists should stay current on new clinical findings and the latest treatment options. There is now a vast ocean of information that a small business (or even a large business) cannot process.
Wherever there are large complex datasets, there is the opportunity to improve our understanding of AI. Keep in mind that useful data is generated in many formats – natural text, tables, digital images/videos, and audio. AI can not only perform data analytics but can also carry out routine tasks and functions to help dentists reduce overall workload, be more efficient, and build stronger patient relationships. A future blog will focus on specific use-cases where AI can be best leveraged in dentistry.
Lack of standardization in Dentistry
Relative to other areas of healthcare, standardization in dentistry is low. Clearly, there may be a range of valid treatment options based clinician preferences with any given case. I have experienced this myself when my family dentist said that a filling would suffice, while my neighborhood dentist recommended a root canal treatment. It’s not a question of trust because I trust them both.
Using artificial intelligence and large datasets that include diagnostic results, treatments, and outcomes it is now possible to empirically measure the effectiveness of different treatment modalities in light of very specific symptoms and anatomical conditions. This is especially important given the range of new dental technologies, techniques, and materials that are introduced every year.
Independent Dental Practices
While corporate dentistry is a rising trend, Dentistry still remains a business that is largely practiced by independent dentists in their own clinics – and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Why is this a factor that would help propel AI in the dental world?
The answer lies in the autonomy of the private practice in adopting beneficial technologies. Independent dentists can decide to incorporate beneficial new technologies without the bureaucracy that is often found in large healthcare organizations (integrated hospital networks for example). Remaining competitive in today’s dental market requires practice owners to be nimble and proactive regarding the technology of all kinds. This competitive drive and autonomy make Dentistry an environment that will continue to attract innovation from companies in the AI space.
Human history has taught us that the right and meaningful technology is always adopted by the community. We can be certain that AI will change dentistry in a way we cannot even imagine today. Dentistry has always been at the forefront when it comes to implementing new technologies. Be it practice management software, digital radiographs or 3D printing – dentists have been early adopters. AI-powered products are a natural next evolution of dental technology and the promise will be realized very soon.
About the author:
Angam Parashar is the co-founder of Dentistry.AI, an artificial intelligence software that automatically detects caries in bitewing x-rays. Dentistry.AI is currently undergoing a clinical investigation under U.S. federal laws.