Reconnecting Practicing Hygienists with the Nation's Leading Educators and Researchers.

Is AI Smart for Oral Healthcare?

As I mentioned in last month’s Editor’s Note, we’ve learned quite a lot from the past 6 months of living and working during a pandemic. From a professional standpoint, we tend to focus on the practice-related adjustments that have made the work environment safer. Enhanced use of personal protective equipment and other infection control measures are likely permanent and part of our new way of providing patient care. Social interactions within the practice present new challenges—we want to maintain safety yet keep that personal touch with patients.

The increased use of technology is another change that has come to the forefront of dental hygiene. Teledentistry, while used previously, has come into its own and is being relied upon more frequently. The emphasis on technology has caused us to examine what else may be on the horizon. One of those advanced care methods is the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE SYSTEMS ARE CAPABLE OF ANALYZING VAST AMOUNTS OF DATA BASED ON PREVIOUS INPUT, AND CAN LEARN AND ADAPT DIAGNOSES AND RECOMMENDATIONS BASED ON THE QUALITY AND QUANTITY OF DATA INPUTTED.

AI is the term used to describe the use of computers and technology to simulate intelligent behavior and critical thinking comparable to a human being. If you have a FitBit or other type of health tracking app, you’re already using AI. That little computer on your wrist is collecting data and providing feedback to help you perform better. In medicine, AI currently plays a role in radiology where applications help diagnose conditions with accuracy and precision. Virtual personal health care assistants coach patients by reminding them to take medications, exercise, or eat healthier. AI systems are capable of analyzing vast amounts of data based on previous input, and can learn and adapt diagnoses and recommendations based on the quality and quantity of data inputted. So it’s easy to see how, over time, AI learns and remembers information to improve its performance.

As you can probably guess, AI is also entering the practice of dentistry and dental hygiene. A recent article in the Journal of Dental Research provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities AI presents for oral healthcare.1 The obvious advantages are:

  • Enhanced diagnostic imaging
  • Ability to process various types of data (eg, medical and dental) in order to personalize care
  • More participation in care by patients (think FitBit for oral health)
  • Decreased costs

In addition, because AI could perform the routine tasks that take a great deal of time for clinicians (such as record keeping), it may “humanize” care by enabling more face-to-face time with patients. Disadvantages center on concerns about privacy, performance testing, risk management, and trustworthiness.

We have a way to go until AI is commonplace in oral healthcare. But one thing’s certain: there will always be a place for human assessments and interactions. This past year has definitely taught us that we need each other in so many ways.

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

Reference

  1. Schwendicke F, Samek W, Krois J. Artificial intelligence in dentistry: chances and challenges. J Dent Res. 2020;99:769–774.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. October 2020;18(9):6.

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