The next steps in artificial intelligence


  Posted by: Dental Design      17th April 2020

You’re probably already aware that my fascination with artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations knows no bounds when it comes to their potential applications in dentistry. I’ve spoken before about the development of robots that can place dental implants as well the potential for nanobots to clean away plaque, but what about diagnostics?

Radiographs and interpretation still play a huge part in modern dentistry, and, of course, come with the potential for human error. That’s why, when I was recently browsing the news, a piece about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it has beaten trained medical professionals at recognising cases of breast cancer from mammograms caught my eye. According to the article, the AI in question managed to reduce instances of false positives by 1.2% across three UK based hospitals and 5.7% in US locations.[i]

This is a hugely significant breakthrough as it can easily benefit patients in a number of ways. First, those with breast cancer are more likely to have the condition recognised, and therefore can receive the help and treatment they need much faster. Furthermore, it also reduces cases of people being falsely told they have breast cancer, when in fact there is no cancer present, meaning that there is a much lower instance of people undergoing unnecessary stress.

Dental diagnostics

So, what if we could apply this technology to dentistry? We all know that radiographs are one of our most essential tools, but the risk of human error is still considerable, especially as it can be difficult to know whether any abnormalities that appear in radiographs are something to worry about, and may be easy to miss.

In fact, dental negligence claims, which include failures to catch oral cancer on radiographs, are one of the most common lawsuits taken against dentists.[ii] This is a serious issue – especially considering that we are living in a more litigious society than ever before.[iii] Indeed, it’s likely that you’ve faced fears of litigation yourself, as surveys suggest that up to 90% of dental professionals fear being sued.[iv]

So, if we could adapt this technology to interpret dental radiographs, what would this mean for diagnostics going forward? In many ways, it could only be a positive thing. After all, if dental patients who do have mouth cancers or serious abnormalities are alerted to this fact more reliably, they will not only get the help they need sooner but it will also leave professionals less open to litigation as these threats will be discovered. Much like in the case with breast cancer tumours this tech will also be a reassurance to patients, as any abnormalities could more reliably be identified, meaning that if it is just a cyst or something that is far less worrying than the C word, then they won’t have to fret due to a misdiagnosis.

However, as rosy as this all sounds, it would definitely bright to light some further considerations…

Who takes the blame?

Say, for example, this technology does come to fruition and begins to be used regularly – if the technology misdiagnoses mouth cancer, then who will get the blame? Inevitably, it will still fall on the dental professional, but what about the manufacturer of this technology? Can artificial intelligence develop enough to have the blame placed firmly on that?

It may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but we have to consider the possibility that if we replace certain parts of dentistry with robots and AI, can the blame only firmly be in our court as we have removed human error? If this technology progresses and becomes more independent it’s something worth considering.

Where will AI take us next?

This breakthrough in AI is arguably only the start, and it’s easy to suggest that AI may soon play a bigger role in all aspects of healthcare, including aiding diagnostics in different ways.

Unfortunately, without a crystal ball it’s impossible to know exactly which of these technologies will become a part of daily treatment and which ones will fail to be a viable choice. However, I think we can all agree that, whatever the case, the very fact that technologies of this type are being invented is hugely interesting, and that a new age of dentistry is definitely on the horizon, whenever that may be.


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[i] Web MD. AI Beats Humans in Spotting Breast Tumors. Link: [Last accessed January 2020].

[ii] Ginsburg & Associates. 9 Common Dental Negligence Lawsuits. Link: [Last accessed January 2020].

[iii] BBC News. Has the UK Gone Litigation Mad? Link: [Last accessed January 2020].

[iv] All Med Pro. 90% of Dentists Fear Being Sued. Are You Sufficiently Protected? Link: [Last accessed January 2020].

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