Modern mouths in a modern world
Are you ready for AI dentistry?
It’s 2023, artificial and augmented intelligence is here — and here to stay! Siri and Alexa are household names, ChatGPT has chatted with over 600 million people in less than a year, Microsoft’s 365 Copilot is on its nth spreadsheet of the day, and AI robot Ameca has spoken — the dispute between ketchup and mayo is settled. The emergence of generative technologies (AI that creates new content, as opposed to making predictions based on inputs) is swiftly changing our daily lives, including our healthcare — which includes our oral care!
AI has assisted the medical field for years, and even more now, in our “post-pandemic” world, where snapping some pics at home in your jammies sounds ever more appealing than sitting in a cold doctor’s office. As for dental care, the field continues to adapt existing technologies — like teledentistry — and rapidly integrating new practices to improve the patient’s experience both in person and online. With the first days of the pandemic a full three years behind us (whew), the transition to tech-supported medical care feels more permanent than ever.
It’s true — like so much of the world, your dentist has gone digital! In honor of World Oral Health Day recognized earlier this month (on 3/20), let’s take a look at the world of modern dentistry, explore the technological and societal advancements improving the field, and find where AI fits into your oral health care routine. Plus, hear what ChatGPT predicts dentist appointments will be like in 2123 (hint: there are nanobots involved).
What is AI?
The exact definition of AI has been debated since the 1950s, when mathematician Alan Turing proposed the question, “Can machines think?” The answer to that one depends on who you ask, but we do know that machines can learn — and a substantial amount of what humans call “intelligence” can be taught.
IBM reports a few different-but-similar interpretations, the primary being that artificial intelligence is “a field, which combines computer science and robust datasets, to enable problem-solving.” Put in simpler terms, AI is a system or machine that thinks and acts rationally — “like a human.” While AI is one of the hottest topics right now, it’s actually been around for as long as super glue (1951!) and a few years older than McDonald’s (1954).
The MIT AI Lab (officially known as CSAIL) has been “computing the future” since ‘59, and General Motors welcomed Unimate, the very first industrial robot, to its assembly line in ‘61. The list of AI “firsts” keeps going (shoutout to Eliza, the first chatbot), but we’ll stop there. The point is, the growth of AI has been steady and swift — and with the move to more time at home (working, socializing, and studying), only gaining speed!
A case for virtual care
Remember back in 2020, when hospitals were at their limits and preventing the spread of COVID-19 was truly a matter of life or death? (Shudders). During this time, telemedicine became “the new normal.” While remote appointments didn’t work for every patient, they did alleviate some of the stress that came with the sudden realization that hospitals and clinics were off-limits for the foreseeable future.
Quickly, patients (and doctors) came to appreciate the increased levels of convenience and accessibility that virtual appointments afforded them. People in remote areas welcomed telehealth as an alternative to the long drive into town, parents at home with sick kids cut down on nerve-racking wait times, and even those with severe medical anxiety found relief in accessible care closer to their comfort zone.
In many ways, AI helped us get through (we got into the 24/7 virtual dental care game in 2022). Without the availability of remote appointments, millions would’ve gone without medical attention for months, if not years — never ideal, but especially not in the middle of a public health crisis. After the initial spike in demand for telehealth services, society at large has accepted (and maybe even prefers) the effective use of AI tools as part of a regular medical checkup.
Back at the clinic, your dentist is probably using some kind of machine learning and dental modeling tools. Technologies like Pearl AI, which uses computer vision to take detailed X-rays and interpret patient data, act like virtual assistants for your dentist! They help connect dots and detect patterns that your dentist can use to uncover useful insights and better treat your teeth.
We use dental modeling in the quip app to track the movement of teeth as they undergo aligners treatment — images document your progress, and as soon as they reach a certain milestone (and your orthodontist approves!) you move up to the next aligner.
Pretty cool that an artificially intelligent piece of technology can literally read your dental records and suggest a treatment plan, saving your dentist time and helping improve the quality of your results. In 2020, the National Library of Medicine ran a study that showed AI models have successfully detected all kinds of dental disease, from cavities to cysts and osteoporosis!
According to the same study, the work is done at an impressive rate, and with professional precision — sometimes even outperforming the work of trained specialists. While reports like this one shed light on impressive advancements in tech, they’ve also raised some concern about the possibility of AI and robots replacing human doctors and dentists. Rest assured that the chances of that happening are close to none! Humans will continue to play a crucial role in health care (we’re far from ready to let robots near our mouths with pointy, shiny objects!)
Realistically, you’ll see technology used as “a second pair of eyes,” simply assisting our dentists in their work. You can also expect to see dental robotics — or should we say Dentronics? — on the news more often. In 2022, Forbes called dentistry “The Next Frontier for Artificial Intelligence.” Just last month, an oral surgeon in DC was the first in the country to use an FDA-approved dental robot in the operating room!
AI & your oral health routine
Can you think of any steps in your oral health care routine where AI helps you get a better clean? You might call on Siri or Alexa to play your favorite Minty Melody while you brush for two minutes, twice a day, or count on facial recognition to unlock your phone while #textingandflossing. Or is that just us?
In 2023, the capabilities of tooth-tech are pretty remarkable. We’ve come a long way from the original electric brush, launched in 1954. The super-smart brushes of the 21st century practically have a brain of their own. Did you know some can track the time and duration of your brush (down to the second) to make sure you’re getting a dentist-recommended clean? Built-in sensors detect the length of every brush stroke and even how long you spend in each section of your mouth.
We know a Smart Electric Toothbrush that does all of this… and more. :) With apps that connect to your brush and keep track of your stats, it’s easier than ever to build healthy oral care habits — another win for AI tech! And though our brush and app functions are technically “artificially intelligent,” they were designed and built by real dentists and designers. There’s a nice example of how humans and AI can make pretty cool work together.
Oral health chatter with ChatGPT
We can’t realistically have a conversation about AI in 2023 without spotlighting the internet’s favorite chatterbox: ChatGPT. Released to the public by OpenAI in 2020, it’s virtually changed the way humans access information online, and even how they produce it. ChatGPT uses a transformer architecture, which is a type of neural network shown to be highly effective in processing natural language. Translation: it sounds a lot like a real human (with the advantage of having access to a lot more information than the average person).
Curious about ChatGPT’s oral health knowledge? So were we. When prompted to generate a dentist-approved oral care routine, ChatGPT recommended brushing for two minutes, twice a day (check), flossing daily (check), rinsing with mouthwash (check), limiting sugary and acidic foods and drinks (check), and attending regular check-ups and cleanings with your dentist (check). Pretty accurate. We understand why millions are flocking to ChatGPT for all the answers ever, and while it can be a useful resource to brush up on basic oral care facts, just promise us you’ll call your real dentist about that weird pain in your mouth.
Now, for the moment of tooth — ChatGPT is smart, (brilliant, even) but how good are its psychic abilities? When we asked what a dentist’s appointment might look like 100 years from now, here’s what it predicted: cavity-killing 3D nanobots, specialized diets and hyper-specific implants, and virtual reality tailored to take the (dental) pain away. Count us in! What about you? We’ve already got a brush that looks like it’s from the 22nd century.