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Interview: “We will see AI being increasingly used in the future”

Prof. Falk Schwendicke believes dentistry is already well-placed to deal with issues of cybersecurity and data protection relating to the integration of artificial intelligence technologies. (Images: Falk Schwendicke; Jackie Niam/Shutterstock)
Brendan Day, DTI

Brendan Day, DTI

Fri. 17 July 2020


As the deputy head of the department of operative and preventive dentistry at Charité—Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany, Prof. Falk Schwendicke has his finger firmly on the pulse of current advancements in the dental world. In a recent article for the Journal of Dental Research, he and his co-authors explored the current and potential applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in the dental clinic. Schwendicke recently spoke with Dental Tribune International to explain more about the topic.

Prof. Schwendicke, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please explain a bit about the ways in which AI has already been integrated into dentistry?
On one hand, we have the classic digital workflows when it comes to restorations, prosthetics, implant dentistry and so on—everything from CAD/CAM to 3D printing and milling. That’s how AI has been integrated into dentistry.

I like to think of AI as a tool for making better use of data in dentistry. For example, we often have various images of the same regions of a patient’s mouth taken over certain periods. With the integration of AI technology, one goal might be to analyse these images in order to allow dentists to better understand what, exactly, is going on with their patients and to identify anything that might otherwise be missed.

“I like to think of AI as a tool for making better use of data in dentistry”

Do you think there is more potential for AI to be integrated into dentistry now that such options as teledentistry are becoming more popular owing to COVID-19?
Absolutely—a lot of teledentistry solutions are themselves already playing with AI to an extent. AI, as I see it, is a more advanced way of making sense of complex data like that obtained from digital patient scans, and especially with teledentistry, these images could be used without a dentist necessarily checking every single image. This would go beyond the classical dentist-focused approach and is something that I could see happening in the future—for example, if a patient was in a care home and a nurse or attendant took photos of his or her mouth, he or she could potentially receive an AI-assisted assessment without the presence of the dentist. This would be particularly useful if the dentist was unable, or not allowed, to go into the care home and see the patient, something that is especially relevant during these COVID-19 times.

Of course, there are a range of issues to consider to do with data protection, hardware and the legal framework in many countries and so on, but I would guess that we will see AI being increasingly used in the future, particularly in situations where it is difficult or dangerous to have a dentist treat a patient face to face.

Given how connected and integrated certain digital dentistry systems are, do you think dentists need to worry particularly about the cybersecurity of their patients’ data?
I think we’re seeing more and more concern in that regard. Governments, universities and other institutions are becoming increasingly aware that we need to protect the security of patients’ data. However, it’s funny that, though we discuss this subject with so much rigour—and rightly so, I will add—people often give their data away freely on social media and companies frequently experience data breaches on a massive scale.

I think medicine is quite well prepared in terms of cybersecurity, since we have been dealing with issues of data protection for decades now. We already have very strict rules for how data is stored, what dentists can do with it and when we need the patient’s consent. I don’t think it will be a major hurdle in the long run.

What other matters do dental professionals need to consider when integrating AI technologies into their daily workflows?
Well, we already have a big schism between dental practices that are already using digital tools for everything from patient data administration to restorative workflows and those practices where none of these technologies are in place for a number of reasons. So, the first thing we need to consider is whether the infrastructure is even in place for this integration to occur.

Once we see that this AI technology can be integrated into a practice, then other considerations such as data protection and integration into workflows should be evaluated.

Editorial note: The article, titled “Artificial intelligence in dentistry: Chances and challenges”, was published in the July 2020 issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

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