October 11, 2022
by Dan Hagi DDS, FAGD, FICOI, (A)FAAID
‘‘We’re at the beginning of a golden age of AI. Recent advancements have already led to inventions that previously lived in the realm of science fiction – and we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.” Jeff Bezos, 2019
Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools are permeating all aspects of our daily lives. Everything from facial recognition on devices to shopping to drug discovery, and even architectural design is informed by – and in many ways greatly enhanced by – expert AI systems. It should come as no surprise, then, that AI is bringing fast-paced innovation in our dental armamentarium. As more and more dental practices today are becoming digital, these smart tools are available to deliver better treatments to our patients, simplify our workflow and, in the end, make our lives easier.
Let’s explore a few ways AI is currently being used in dentistry: 1) to schedule and communicate with patients, 2) to engage our patients and help present treatment, 3) as a diagnostic aid with our various imaging modalities, 4) to help with planning our treatments, and finally 5) to facilitate monitoring of treatment and outcome.
A typical patient journey will encounter multiple AI touch points in the practice. Let’s have a look at these interactions as they exist today, and how AI tools already make our lives easier.
One of the amazing innovations of the last few years is the advent of AI agents (chatbots) that speak to us using natural language. These digital agents are already experts at facilitating appointment scheduling, recall, and follow ups. Software like Dental Attendant are like a staff member that operates on the website to facilitate communication and conversion. One day, these digital agents will seamlessly perform as a virtual member of the staff.
Every cosmetic dental “project” starts with a consultation. We often rely on high quality digital photographs to clarify aesthetic concerns, propose a plan, and envision possible treatment outcomes. AI tools can be used to generate a smile simulation that is photorealistic and can be used to emotionally connect the patient to a prospective outcome. In the past, creating a simulation either required effort and training using manual smile design apps, or took days if done by an outsourced provider. Nowadays, we have AI systems that have been trained on smile design and are able to create photorealistic simulations that are more compelling than anything produced by even a rock star photo retoucher. One such system, Dentrino, creates an automatic simulation that is ready to present at the press of a button and enables patients to engage and preview their prospective smile enhancement. Similarly, orthodontic treatments can be previewed in a photorealistic way from a simple full-face smiling photograph. AI is making treatment simulation better, faster, and more accessible to everyone. This type of engagement brings a patient closer to making a decision to pursue treatment and contributes positively to their subsequent satisfaction with their actual delivered outcome.
Once our patient has decided that they want to pursue treatment, we would go ahead and collect records that aid in obtaining a diagnosis. Much of our diagnostic data comes from a clinical examination and radiographs (both 2D and 3D). AI tools such as Diagnocat, Pearl and Overjet can produce reports on intraoral radiographs, panoramic and, in the case of Diagnocat, even CBCT volumes. These reports are based on machine learning that analyzed millions of images. This means that the AI probably sees more than a human eye can and patients are also more likely to believe a diagnosis that comes both from the clinician and an AI “second opinion.” The data is also organised and methodical, simplifying radiographic interpretation. This does not cut out the doctor, but instead aids in and speeds up the task. Moreover, multiple specific CBCT reports can be produced by the software. These reports can include implant measurements, orthodontic analysis and even airway analysis. The AI diagnostic tools simplify our lives and make sure that we reduce clinical oversights.
When it comes to planning and delivering the actual treatment, AI is here to make the job easier. Digital data needs to be organized, segmented and processed so that it can be used to plan surgery, orthodontics or prosthetic work. One very important task in the digital treatment planning workflow is segmentation of either STL or DICOM files. AI can help in performing this tedious job, which would previously take up to 2 hours of work. Nowadays, at the click of a button in software like Diagnocat, we see segmented DICOM files in about 5 minutes. Orthodontic planning can take place in modern software platforms such as Invisalign and Lightforce, where AI generates movement proposals in minutes (or even seconds!). Of course, these treatment plans are refined with human intervention, but automation accelerates our work and enhances our results.
Teledentistry has had a meteoric rise over the last few years, as more of our lives became remote and digital than ever before. Thanks to advances in AI vision, a patient’s own cell phone can serve as a powerful tool for treatment monitoring and remote diagnosis. With orthodontic monitoring powered by AI systems and deep learning, we know whether the patient’s actual tooth movement is following the treatment plan, as well as when they are ready for their next aligner. We can intervene sooner if treatment is not progressing and save our patients time and unneeded frustration. These tools can streamline our orthodontic treatment and reduce our overhead.
The AI revolution is most certainly here. As with all technological advancements, the initial fear of being replaced soon gives way to the realization that these tools actually give us superpowers, unlocking the full potential of our work. I do not see us dental professionals being replaced, but instead we are becoming more efficient and more productive with the aid of our AI collaborators. It is likely that over the coming years, the scope and depth of AI’s impact on the dental profession will expand exponentially. Continuous adaptation, lifelong learning, and an open mind are absolutely essential as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate.
About the Author
Dr. Dan Hagi received his dental training at the University of Toronto and now maintains a multidisciplinary implant and rehabilitative practice in Thornhill, Ontario. He is an associate Fellow of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology(ICOI), the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), the Academy for Dental Facial Esthetics (ADFE) and the Misch International Implant Institute(MIII). His private practice focuses on metal free, minimally invasive implant rehabilitation and aesthetic smile design. He is a lecturer and mentor through DICE Inc. (Dental Implantology Center of Excellence) as well as a consultant on emerging technology and metal-free materials and techniques.