Group Studies Role of AI in Dentistry

Group Studies Role of AI in Dentistry
Merritt Dake, CEO of Rock Dental Brands: “We’re in the early stages of figuring out how to leverage AI as a tool to help providers.”

Merritt Dake wants a role for artificial intelligence in dentistry’s future, but he doesn’t expect robots to be pulling teeth.

Dake, the CEO of Rock Dental Brands of Little Rock, is one of the 15 founding members of the Dental AI Council of Los Angeles. The group officially formed at the end of September and is working on artificial intelligence in dentistry through research and education, according to a news release from the group.

Members of the council include Dr. Roshan Parikh, head of dentistry at Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, and Dr. Sanjay Mallya, chair and associate professor of oral and maxillofacial radiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Dentistry.

“We’re in the early stages of figuring out how to leverage AI as a tool to help providers,” said Dake, who is also the CEO of Rock Dental’s sister company, Greyfinch, which provides practice management software services to dental groups across the country.

Dake hopes that artificial intelligence will be able to read a patient’s X-ray or scan and then alert the provider to an area on the scan that requires further inspection.

Dake doesn’t see robots replacing dentists anytime in his lifetime. “In the short term, it’s going to be more of a diagnosis aid,” he said.

Dake also predicts artificial intelligence will assist with treatment decisions. For example, if a patient has a major cavity and the nerve is exposed, a dentist can pull the tooth, which is the cheapest option. The dentist could perform a root canal or place a crown on the tooth. Another option is installing an implant. But if AI can offer the provider data showing that the patient is likely to face fewer issues by choosing the implant, that might change a patient’s decision, Dake said.

“Frankly, nobody even really knows the answer yet because there hasn’t been enough data on historical treatments and outcomes,” said Dake, a 2018 Arkansas Business 40 Under 40 honoree.

AI is expected to benefit the entire spectrum of the dental industry, from diagnosis to treatment, and help with practice management, the news release said.

“The list of areas where AI can improve performance in our industry is long,” Dr. Linda Vidone, chief clinical officer at Delta Dental of Massachusetts, said in the release. “To see that performance boost soon, we’ll need to buck a trend where innovation in dental lags behind other medical fields. The DAIC will be a reputable information source and guide to encourage AI’s early adoption and mindful deployment in dentistry.”

A Technology Serving All

For years, Dake said, he has been part of a group that talked about ways to use artificial intelligence in dentistry to provide better care. This year seemed like the right time to make the group official. “There hasn’t really been a forum for people to talk about it, … but it just felt like a need to try and get like-minded people together,” he said.

Artificial intelligence hasn’t been an option in the last 10 to 15 years, but that’s changing, Dake said. In the last three years, about 10 AI companies have surfaced in the dental industry, he said.

The Dental AI Council also includes members from equipment manufacturers, insurance companies, laboratories and universities.

“The various dental stakeholders usually have distinct appetites when it comes to fruits of technological progress, but AI is a rare example of a technology that can serve all,” said Dr. Markus Blatz, chair and professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.

“The range of representatives joining the table here reflects AI’s broad utility and ensures that DAIC research will attend to the whole gamut of industry interests.”

Dake said the group plans to meet quarterly.

“This council has an indefinite timeline of how long it can go,” Dake said. “But I do think that over the next five years you’ll see a lot more consistency in how AI is being implemented.”