Why artificial intelligence is the future of dentistry

November 2, 2017

AI is already taking over the medical landscape, and soon it will affect dentistry.

The ability of computers to assume tasks for humans has dramatically improved efficiency in every industry from manufacturing to transportation. Medicine is getting into the game big time. Dentistry will be obliged to follow.  

Medicine is deploying AI to take on challenges from diagnosing patients more quickly in emergency rooms, to streamlining communication between doctors, to lessening the risk of complications so that patients can go home sooner from the hospital - dramatically reducing reinfection and readmission rates, improving outcomes, increasing value and decreasing costs.

One incredible way medical patients are benefiting is from AI’s ability to assist clinicians with making diagnoses. IBM brought AI into mainstream medicine when it offered its Watson platform to cancer centers to help oncologists determine the best treatments for patients. Physicians plug patients’ diagnoses into IBM’s Watson for oncology and instantly receive treatment recommendations based on each patient’s data and information pulled from reams of medical journals. In dentistry, Dr. John Kois’s Evidentiae is grounded on a similar model.

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Evidentiae is an innovative cloud-based dental software with a highly streamlined digital workflow, starting from online patient history forms all the way to patient checkout that revolves around the patient’s risk. Evidentiae's algorithm is designed to pull information from medical and dental histories as well as from charted exam findings to generate a comprehensive overview of your patient's dental health. It develops an extensive diagnostic opinion for periodontal concerns, biomechanical parameters, functional decision making and dentofacial alterations. It is designed to provide practitioners with the most comprehensive documentation available to date, along with the ability to utilize this information in case presentation.

There are technology developers who are now focusing on software that can read CT scans and other medical and dental images and then suggest the most likely diagnosis by reviewing similar images stored in patient databases. And these kinds of processes can accurately process these tasks far faster than human technicians. A program in medicine and soon in dentistry called VisualDx allows physicians to input images as well as patient symptoms and immediately pull up a list of possible diagnoses.

AI is also now being used in several hospital systems to improve efficiencies. The software is being developed to optimize scheduling for surgeries and imaging tests by predicting how long each scheduled procedure will take. This software will be easily adaptable to the dental practice.

AI is projected to be incorporated into every area of medicine over the next 10 years, virtually eliminating unnecessary procedures and streamlining administration. Clinical outcomes will greatly improve. Costs will be significantly reduced. Patient satisfaction will directly improve. Access will improve. These same improvements will also be true for dentistry as AI increases its presence in the dental practice.

But today, where is dentistry in its awareness of AI and its potential use in dental practice? The answer is asleep at the wheel.

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While speaking to dentists, whether in solo practice or group practice, they are typically unconscious to the tremendous impact AI will have on their world. Clinging to the notion that only dentists can diagnose, treatment plan and deliver dental care is simply ill-advised. With AI able to better diagnose and treatment plan, with AI able to identify best practices, with AI able to manage risk, with AI better able to handle patient scheduling and finance, dentists need to wake up to the fact that dentistry and dental practices will be dramatically altered by AI. AI is a future that’s time has come.

AI cannot be stopped. Machine to machine learning is here. Computers do not need human beings to learn; they can now communicate directly with each other. The speed of learning will increase logarithmically. As AI continues its expansion into medicine, it will naturally become more and more infused into dentistry, especially with the oral-systemic relationships firmly established and pushed along by the rapidly rising healthcare costs of treating chronic diseases.

For example, depending on a Type 1 diabetic’s medical records, the severity of disease, compliance, management of risk factors, oral radiographic images and inputted clinical data, it is apparent that AI will ultimately determine treatment planning and frequency of care. Over time, it will determine the best dentists to treat these patients. 

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In the U.S. alone, there are reportedly 3 million Type 1 diabetic patients. When the healthcare system can realize a savings of approximately $5,000 per diabetic patient per year by the use of AI, what impact will that have on dentistry? When an insurance company can deny certain procedures submitted in a predetermination because AI says so, what impact will that have on the dental practice?

It would be smart for dentistry to become fully engaged with AI, but once again, dentistry is not that smart about seeing the future and getting ahead of it. Rather than taking the lead in utilizing AI, dentistry will operate as they always have, which is waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

Dentistry will remain asleep about AI and therefore not notice that one or two large players like Heartland or Pacific or payers like Delta or Aetna or their representative organizations like the ADSO or NADP are heavily investing in AI. These entities realize AI is the future. They understand AI will decrease costs, increase efficiencies, generate better outcomes, and increase value for patients and employers. And these entities have the money to invest in AI for their members.  

These entities will follow the path of understanding and utilizing AI, while solo practices and their political organizations will remain disengaged from AI. And, as AI is firmly held in the hands of DSOs and insurance companies,  AI will put another “nail in the coffin” of the solo practice.

As medicine goes, so goes dentistry. As patients and the public become more and more aware of the benefits of AI in medicine, as dentists are forced to become more integrated into primary care, AI will move from the sidelines of dentistry into its core. Today, no dental practice can run without practice management software. The same will be true of AI in dentistry and the dental practice of tomorrow.