Originally published in Becker’s Dental+DSO Review on July 14, 2021
Artificial intelligence is a growing tool that has enhanced the way patients are treated and how practices operate on a daily basis. Practices can manage their workflow more efficiently, access information quicker and treat patients with more accuracy and confidence.
Becker’s recently spoke with Overjet CEO Wardah Inam, PhD, and Chief Dental Officer Robert Faiella, DMD, about how artificial intelligence is being used in the industry and what advancements could be next for the technology.
Question: What are the advantages of using AI within the dental industry?
Wardah Inam: What’s happening currently [in practices] is, No. 1, how do you communicate with the patient better in terms of their diseases and such that they’re more informed about their diseases as well. The second is being able to provide a more comprehensive diagnosis where things that might have been missed previously or might not be on their radar, those aspects can be brought to them at the right time, while the patient is in the chair and their data is analyzed. The third is at a DSO level, at a managerial level. Right now for the first time ever, you can actually monitor and track your clinical performance. So you’re looking at how your practices are doing clinically rather than just financially. That helps to determine how you can improve that performance and where the risks and opportunities are.
Dr. Robert Faiella: This is a transformative technology, but it’s too simple to say it’s transformative technology without asking the question, why or how and what makes it transformative. AI is just the technology, but if we create a functionality for the user, it’s more than just the technology alone. It connects us with a wider world of information and options and using that to be able to inform patients at the point of care, you can show them an annotated image where you can point out and say the patient needs scaling and root planing, or perhaps a restoration or a crown. If you can identify that reason on the X-ray toggle [from] those annotations that have been identified by the algorithm, you’re confirming what the AI shows, but it also gives the patient another sense of understanding and trust.
Q: Have you noticed hesitation from practice owners to introduce AI technology?
RF: From my perspective, the biggest fear is not understanding how they can engage it and get their staff to engage it in their workflow because workflow is very tight. Innovation is a disruptor to a standard operating procedure. Most practices have protocols they follow and have a time frame, and it’s very strict in terms of how they proceed through the day. They’re saying, well, how are we going to add this to it? They don’t really understand until they begin to use it and begin to have their staff use that in the daily patients; they see how efficient it can make their day. So there’s a little bit of a hesitancy in the world of the unknown but once they start to use it, they really see the benefit.
Q: What’s left to be discovered with AI?
WI: With any kind of technology, especially something like artificial intelligence, there’s always improvement. We’re pushing the boundary on what is possible and what isn’t possible right now. The idea here is, radiographs are an imaging modality, which is very difficult to identify small lesions in. The resolutions aren’t there, especially in the dental practices with like 50 kilobyte images. These are very low-resolution images, and being able to accurately predict whether there is disease on those images is challenging. The question is, how do you increase the accuracy there when the input is coming from the dentist itself? These are constantly learning systems. So as we see more data, we just get better as well as more robust at predicting on data that we haven’t seen. So I would say there’s always room for improvement when it comes to machine learning algorithms; it just gets tougher and tougher.
Q: What is one thing you want people to know about artificial intelligence?
WI: What’s really important here is dentistry impacts every human in the world. There are a lot of people in the U.S. who do not have access to care, especially to a dentist in their communities, but being able to create a technology which can help improve access to care and quality of care is something [where] there’s a huge potential of utilization when it comes to AI.
RF: The other thing is not to fear the technology; look at it as a tool. You don’t have to learn any programming language to embrace it. It’s a tool to be utilized, and no provider will lose their job to AI. But those who do not embrace it will more than likely be replaced by those that do. It’s just like magnification. Way back people said, “If you use magnification when treating a patient your eyes will get weak.” That’s not the right perspective, obviously. [This is] something that will enhance your ability and is a tool to use in the appropriate way for your patients.