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Clinicians can now “see” a patient’s pain in real time using advanced technology

By Dental Tribune International
July 11, 2019

ANN ARBOR, Mich., U.S.: One of the biggest challenges in clinical dentistry is pain management during even the simplest of procedures. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) have created a technology to overcome this challenge. Their innovation involves special augmented reality glasses through which clinicians can “see” and map a patient's pain in real time. The researchers consider this innovation as the first step in the advancement of pain management technology, although it may still take some more years to get integrated into dental practices.

The innovation is called CLARAi - Clinical Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence, which allows clinicians and researchers to intuitively see, in real-time, how their patient's pain levels are responding to treatment. The Augmented Reality and advanced sensor technology enables the clinicians see inside a patients brain and "visualize" the pain intensity and location using Deep Learning AI. The technology uses neuroimaging to combine visualization with brain data and helps the clinicians to navigate through a patient’s brain.

“It’s very hard for us to measure and express our pain, including its expectation and associated anxiety,” said Dr. Alex DaSilva, associate professor at the UM School of Dentistry and Director of the Headache and Orofacial Pain Effort Laboratory.

The researchers tested the technology on 21 volunteer dental patients to measure the patients' reactions to cold stimuli applied to teeth. The patients seated on dental chairs wore caps fitted with sensors that were used to detect changes in blood flow and oxygenation. The researchers wore augmented reality glasses to view the subject’s brain activity in real time on a reconstructed brain template. The study allowed them to collect pain data from the brain and develop algorithms that could be coupled with new software and neuroimaging hardware, and predict the presence or absence of pain about 70% of the time.

CLARAi could enable practitioners to understand a patient’s pain better while still remaining focused on the procedure at hand. “Right now, we have a one to ten rating system, but that’s far from a reliable and objective pain measurement,” noted DaSilva.

Although the current research has focused only on dental pain, researchers hope to include other types of pain and different conditions in the future.

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