AI in Dentistry – A Good Thing.

Posted on Jul 05, 2023 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

I remember when microwave ovens first appeared on the market. My mom wouldn’t even go near one in operation. Now, we know how to use them and the good things that come from their use.

Shoot forward 50 years and, like it or not, AI (artificial intelligence) is here. Self driving cars and round vacuums that move along floors are no longer Jetson-like imaginings. They’re blending into our lives in ways that are beneficial and non-threatening.

Like the microwave oven easing its way into day-to-day living, it’s logical that some people fear AI as a bad thing. After all, movies made decades ago prompted a vision of robots meandering among the human race as a new, threatening species.

As an Asheville periodontist, I’ve already seen – and incorporated in use – the positive aspects of breakthrough technology. Understanding its detection capabilities and accuracy, I’m particularly excited about the potential AI brings to the medical and dental fields.

You may be surprised to know that dentists are already beginning to turn to AI technology to quickly and accurately detect and prevent periodontitis, decay, bone loss and other gum health issues.

For example, a medical technology company in Boston has developed an AI platform that can assess X-ray images to an extent of over 50 times what can be detected by dentists through visual reviews. This allows dentists to give more effective treatment recommendations for patients while supporting the potential to avoid (or minimize) existing problems from developing or worsening.

For patients, AI assessments can also be reassuring. For those who anticipate particular treatment needs – a root canal, for instance – these assessments can zero in on exact issues so treatment planning is as conservative and as minimal possible, while being fully effective for the particular need.

Not just in medical and dental offices, but we’ll likely see AI used mainstream in many sectors. It can optimize accuracy in organizational materials, financial and budget projections, construction, farming, etc. For those of us in the periodontal dental field, AI has a vast potential to greatly improve the oral – and overall – health of our population.

Gum disease affects over 47% of American adults. With the help of AI, we can identify a higher percentage of cavities in earliest development stages while cutting the rate of misdiagnosis in half (thus curtailing over-treatment, in some cases). AI analysis will also aid in early detection of abscesses, lesions and oral diseases. It can prove to be a remarkable asset in catching oral cancer, helping to increase its poor survival rate or minimize the severity of treatment.

Through decades of research and extensive studies, keeping good oral health has been shown to be a supporting factor in good overall health. By keeping the “bad” bacteria in the mouth to manageable levels, the immune system operates more efficiently. Too, risk of medical complications from diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses can be significantly decreased.

It is suspected that many people are unaware that they even have periodontal (gum) disease, mainly because gum disease often begins with no obvious symptoms of its presence. Then, once symptoms appear (such as seeing blood in the sink when brushing), people may shrug this off as normal, or merely a sign they are being thorough in their brushing technique.

Gum disease is a particular problem for our aging population. The normal aging process dries out our hair, skin, and yes, the mouth. When the mouth is dry and saliva flow is insufficient, bacteria accumulation is more likely. This, in turn, provides a more welcoming environment for bacteria growth.

Too, many medications on the market – both prescription and OTC – have a side effect or oral dryness. This is double trouble for seniors, who already have “dry mouth” to combat. However, for people who smoke and/or are consumers of caffeine, they fall into this risk group as well.

Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, most colas, and (darn!) even chocolate. It can be in high concentrations in things like energy drinks and “power” bars. Caffeine-fortified foods can surprisingly include marshmallows, some cereals (and breakfast bars), jelly beans, gummy bears and frozen waffles.

Although AI will be an added perk to diagnosing oral health problems, it is the dentist and the patient together who have much more important roles. While regular dental check-ups help to remove existing buildup on teeth (known as plaque, which can harden into tartar), at-home care is what helps to prevent problems between visits.

It is first important to know the signs and symptoms of the various stages of gum disease. Warning signs include:

• Red, swollen, or tender gums or other pain in your mouth
• Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food
• Gums that recede or pull away from the base of teeth
• Loose or separating teeth
• Pockets of pus between gums and teeth
• Sores in the mouth
• Persistent bad breath
• A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
• A change in the fit of partial dentures

The dentist-patient relationship can never be replaced by AI. Once you find a dental office where you feel respected, comfortable, and have total confidence, technology itself is merely an add-on.

If you have not had regular dental care or feel you have symptoms of gum disease (as listed above), it is recommended that you renew your commitment to your smile and your overall health with a complete periodontal dental examination.

During this time, your periodontist will note any areas that are diseased or at risk of developing such. He or she will explain recommended treatment and discuss a comfortable pace for your individual needs. Payment plans can also be discussed after determining the type of treatment most appropriate for your care.

If dental fear or anxiety has kept you from regular dental care, our NW Carolina periodontal dental office has a reputation for helping adults overcome the obstacles it can pose. Please share your concerns prior to or during your examination appointment. We offer several comfort options (in addition to our reputation for a gentle touch) and can explain what may be best for your care. We offer oral and IV sedation (twilight sleep), which are administered safely and with advanced monitoring equipment.

Too, our vast array of advanced technology often helps to minimize treatment while optimizing comfort. Please learn more about these features at: BiltmorePerio-Technology

We can’t stop progress, nor should we resist it. While most anything can be used with ill-will, I see AI in dentistry as a positive part of providing exceptional oral health to our patients – and our adult population!

But first, we must get you into the office. And that’s your decision. We don’t have technology to coax you in and hope you will take that step on your own before problems force you into a dental chair (which is often the case, unfortunately).

Call 828-274-9440 for an appointment or to have your initial questions answered.



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