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  • Dr. Vishnu Sreekumar

I, Dentist.

“The rise of powerful AI will be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity.” ~ Stephen Hawking

Rational thinking or conscience largely separates us from all other life forms, sadly behaving beastly is not uncommon these days (with what’s happening around the world). Nevertheless, this ability is the reason for all the discoveries and inventions that have made our lives incredibly easier. Tried as hard as we could, this is also the one thing that we haven’t been able to create or replicate. A century ago the thought of creating an artificial intelligence was deemed science fiction but now, it is the frontier of research. Although not entirely successful we have made enormous leaps in creating a machine that can not only follow commands but can also think for itself. We can now create machines that are capable of computing billions of calculations per second and detect complex patterns in vast amounts of data, yet the secret of sentience continues to elude us.

When talking about Artificial Intelligence people often equate Artificial Intelligence with Artificial General Intelligence. Understanding the different types of AI helps us understand what the scope of artificial intelligence is. Broadly, artificial intelligence is divided into 3 groups ANI, AGI and ASI.

  • Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) is a system which can perform tasks that have been pre-programmed, the best example being Voice assistants like Apple’s Siri or Sophia the Robot. They have an intelligence weaker than that of a human and are commonly used in today's world.

  • AGI and ASI stand for Artificial General and Super Intelligence respectively, these systems or robots would have an intelligence equal to or higher than that of an average human and can experience emotions as is commonly portrayed in sci-fi movies like Sonny from I, Robot or Chitti from Robot.

Now that we have an idea of what artificial intelligence is, let us have a look at how AI can help dentists. For the scope of this discussion, we will concentrate on ANI because ASI/AGI are far from becoming reality and moreover could put us out of business if available commercially. ;)

Dentistry has not been left out of the AI revolution and the next decade will be a turning point where there will be more integration of artificial intelligence into our daily practice.

  • With the ability to process large amounts of data in a short amount of time, dentists can use AI to oversee patient databases and make crucial information available at the touch of a button. Add a simple voice integration to this with Alexa, Google assistant or a plethora of voice assistants available and voilà! you have a virtual dental assistant at your command.

  • Another use of AI is recognising patterns to help us diagnose more efficiently. One such technology in development is Dentistry.AI which helps dentists detect existing caries as well as areas at risk in dental radiographs. The machine can be taught to detect even the most minuscule change in radio-density to improve our diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • Recent advances in robotics have enabled engineers to create a robotic arm that can help dentists with implant surgery. This robotic system known as Yomi® provides haptic robotic guidance for the surgeon throughout the procedure and also delivers critical insights to aid with personalised surgical planning.

  • AI is now available even for orthodontic diagnosis, treatment planning and monitoring. These systems can be used to monitor treatment progress and track it against the proposed treatment plan and tooth movements.

  • Artificial intelligence can also manage your front desk, comb through existing patient records and schedule appointments for patients who need a follow-up or a routine dental checkup, giving you an assistant, a receptionist and a diagnostician all-in-one (just the way we like it, right from our UG days), albeit for a higher initial investment, duh.

As our lives are becoming increasingly digitalised and integrated to the things around us, the Internet of Things(IoT) as they call it, AI will inevitably become an essential upgrade for dentistry. It is not a question of ‘if' anymore, but ‘when.’ Perhaps someday in the distant future, a dentist would be someone who remotely controls an AI robot to treat his patients. Now wouldn’t that be salvation for our spines? ;)

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