The state of the brush: How artificial intelligence is taking dentistry to the future

 The State of the Brush is an occasional series that looks at some of the newest and most exciting advances and inventions in the world of dentistry. 

When you hear the term “artificial intelligence,” the first thing that might come to mind is science fiction — a distant, fantastic future of robots, androids and all-knowing computers.

But the science behind artificial intelligence, or AI, isn’t fiction. AI is not only real, it has begun a migration from laboratories and universities into our everyday lives and is popping up in some in unexpected places.

That includes your dentist’s office. 

Wait, does that mean that my dentist will be a robot?

No, you’ll always need a human dentist. The goal of AI isn’t to replace your dentist but to improve your dentist’s ability to detect the dental conditions you have quickly and accurately and then consistently provide you with exactly the treatment you need. If your dentist has questions, AI can provide a second opinion.

That sounds great. So how does work?

At its most basic, AI uses the information it receives to learn patterns. The more information it receives, the more it learns. As it gathers more information, it learns to assess situations and then make decisions or predict outcomes based what the data tells it.

How can dentists use this?

There are several promising dental applications for AI.


Diagnostic dentistry. AI works well for diagnosing certain dental conditions, especially ones that may be caused by multiple factors, such as canker sores and jaw issues. By analyzing large sets of data and thousands of x-rays, AI can help lead dentists to objective, consistent diagnoses for issues like cavities. It has also proven useful for identifying patients at risk for developing oral cancers.

Orthodontics. AI has proven useful in various phases of orthodontics, including diagnosis, treatment planning and follow-up monitoring. Information from AI can be used to create precise aligners and determine a dental plan, including how the patient’s teeth should be moved, how much pressure should be applied to teeth and where the pressure points on specific teeth are. AI reduces the chances of error and time for treatment.

Wow, that sounds promising. Are there any issues with AI?

There are a few. Much of the dental patient data that AI need to make accurate diagnoses isn’t as available or accessible as some other data because it’s protected or confidential. So the sets of available data are often relatively small compared with other datasets used for AI applications, and may be incomplete.

Also, the data available may result in a bias by the AI program. For example, datasets obtained from hospitals, where very sick patients often visit due to emergency or severe dental conditions, or from wearable devices such as smartwatches, which are often worn by healthy young people and athletes, might lead the AI to make inaccurate predictions or to ignore certain groups of patients who are underrepresented.  

Still, the technology shows great promise, and advances in technology should make AI an integral part of your dental experience in the future. So while you’ll probably never walk into a dental office and find a robot dentist, AI will help make your human dentist smarter, faster and more consistent than ever.