From Sci-Fi to Dentistry
As digital technology continues to permeate every aspect of dentistry, artificial intelligence (AI) is now being used to further enhance its capabilities for everything from patient charting and communication tools to clinical decision-making support in diagnostic imaging and smile and restoration design. Our January cover story explores some of the current applications of AI in dentistry and discusses its potential to have a transformative impact on the profession.
Although it's tough to see a downside to the more practice management-related uses of AI, some clinicians have reservations about its use in diagnosis and treatment. However, as Eric Pulver, DDS, explains in the article, AI doesn't tell us what to do, it alerts us to what we may be missing. It's a tool that can add some objectivity to what can become a subjective process. Dr. Pulver introduced me to the technology years ago when it was nascent, and I'm excited to see how it's being implemented. The progress during the last 5 years has really outpaced expectations.
As with any digital technology, the only danger lies in AI being used as a crutch instead of a tool. Technology should never be a replacement for education and skill, and machine learning should never be a replacement for human learning. Depending on image quality and other factors, AI may indicate the presence of caries on a radiograph where the examination reveals that it's only cervical burnout. Clinicians need to be able to rely on their own diagnostic skills. AI provides clinical decision-making support, not clinical decision-making. Alternatively, there could be times when you don't get a stick during the examination and AI can help you to see that things are worse than they appear. I'm not too proud to admit that there have been times in the past that, with the best interests of patients in mind, I've been too conservative in my diagnosis, and they return with a situation that requires endodontics. Any tool that can help to prevent you from undertreating or overtreating is a good one; however, my recommendation is to use your own clinical judgement first, then consult the AI. This way, you aren't prejudiced by it. The AI should be serving as a second opinion, like a colleague-no tool can replace your brain.
Robert C. Margeas, DDS
Editor-in-Chief, Inside Dentistry
Private Practice, Des Moines, Iowa
Department of Operative Dentistry
University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa