My remit for this article was to predict how AI will change dental technology, which the more I thought about it, the harder it became. After all, who can say with any certainty what the future holds? To truly understand this future, we can look to the past, examining it much like we would scrutinise an impression, and then attempt to map the route forward.
THE RISE OF AI
In the heart of the mid-20th century, a British mathematician named Alan Turing introduced a radical concept – a ‘universal machine’. This concept served a transformative role in computing, akin to the significance of fluoride in toothpaste: a groundbreaking element that would revolutionise the field. Turing’s work essentially laid the foundation for our favourite industry catalyst, artificial intelligence (AI).
Fast forward to 1956 at the renowned Dartmouth Conference, a meeting of brilliant minds that included figures like John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky. It was at this conference that they christened the term Artificial Intelligence (AI), thereby officially designating this burgeoning field. A fleeting AI boom followed, but much like a bubble gum-flavoured prophy paste, it seemed intriguing but didn’t quite live up to the grand expectations. Consequently, we fell into the initial era of disillusionment known as the first ‘AI winter’.
Nevertheless, akin to the tenacity of plaque, AI persisted. The advent of expert systems in the 1980s and machine learning in the 1990s marked significant strides in AI development. The pinnacle was reached in 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue demonstrated the vast potential of AI by defeating the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a historic match. It was a metaphorical checkmate to human dominance!
As we moved into the 2010s, AI matured much like a well-cured acrylic. Deep learning, alongside other advanced machine learning techniques, began to proliferate. Fuelled by an abundant supply of data and robust computational power, AI’s development surged, facilitating breakthroughs across various sectors at an exponential rate.
Francisco Toro from G50, an intellectual club in the US, draws a comparison between the ongoing developments in AI and the iconic moment when a computer first defeated a human in a game of chess in 1997. He suggests that AI is not here to replace us, but rather to augment our skills. It’s like a dental bridge, meant to fill gaps and support us in our work, thereby raising the bar in all intellectual professions.
AI IN HEALTHCARE
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is strategically planning a 15-year workforce roadmap that extensively incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). The objective is to automate booking processes, potentially increasing their speed by up to ten-fold and saving up to 30% in administrative costs. AI software like ChatGPT is being enlisted to transcribe doctors’ notes, while bots will be employed to manage scheduling of appointments and surgical procedures.
The plan also includes the use of bots for patient bookings, flagging test results, and analysing patient referrals, thereby significantly reducing the workload of medical secretaries. Moreover, a £21m fund has been allocated towards harnessing AI to expedite cancer diagnosis, with machine learning being used to scrutinise lung X-rays and ensure swift diagnosis of strokes. The overarching aim of this strategy is to use technology to enhance patient care and elevate productivity within the NHS. It is only a matter of time until similar applications permeate the field of dentistry.
Brace yourself for the direct impact of AI on our profession. A team at the University of Hong Kong is using AI to revolutionise the manufacturing process of dental prostheses. With a tool named the 3D-Deep Convolutional Generative Adversarial Network (3D-DCGAN) they’re leveraging AI to design dental crowns with a level of precision that could astonish even the most experienced prosthodontist.
Compared to the conventional CAD/CAM workflow, which can feel as labour-intensive as hand-mixing alginate, this AI-aided method is set to streamline the process substantially. It significantly reduces the need for manual tweaking, resulting in considerable cost savings and time efficiency.
The AI-crafted crowns were deemed so precise, outperforming traditional CAD methods. This innovative approach can be seen as the dental equivalent of a 3D printed model, a prospective game-changer in the industry.
As we step into a future where AI becomes as common as wax in our labs, our competence in our jobs will increasingly depend on our ability to effectively harness AI. Simply put, being good at your job will soon equate to being adept at leveraging AI.
Large language models like ChatGPT, along with image creation AI tools like Midjourney, will streamline communication and expedite tasks. The range of possibilities is vast, whether it’s generating engaging content for promotional materials, websites, price lists, covering letters, designing dental prostheses, or enhancing communications with dentists.
In conclusion, we are transitioning towards a future where AI is as essential to our toolkit as the wax knife. It’s vital that we’re not merely passive observers of this transformative change. Instead, we should be actively engaged, shaping the AI-driven future of dentistry.
In the prophetic words of John Connor, we can’t stop judgment day; we can only hope to survive it. So, it’s time for us to roll up our lab coats, adjust our loupes, and equip ourselves to navigate this AI-powered future. This doesn’t mean merely surviving the tide of change but embracing it, learning, and growing with it, making AI a strategic ally in delivering superior dental care. After all, the future of dentistry is not just about machines taking over tasks but enhancing human ability and creativity to reach unprecedented levels of excellence.
As we embrace this AI-powered future, let us remember that the true essence of dentistry lies in the human touch. It’s about the compassion, empathy, and expertise we bring to our patients. AI can assist us in our journey, but it cannot replace the artistry and personalised care that we provide.
So, let us embark on this new era with curiosity and enthusiasm. Let us harness the power of AI to push the boundaries of dental technology and elevate patient care. Together, we can shape a future where AI and human ingenuity work hand in hand to create smiles that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also reflective of the harmonious collaboration between man and machine. The future of dentistry is here, and it’s time to embrace it wholeheartedly.