Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly significant role in the realm of health and wellness, aiding in tasks ranging from cancer detection to medical documentation. Now, AI has the potential to simplify the process of providing patients with a more natural and functional smile, particularly in dentistry.

According to a press release from the University of Hong Kong, researchers at the university have recently developed an AI algorithm that employs 3D machine learning to design personalized dental crowns with a higher level of accuracy compared to traditional methods. The AI algorithm analyzes data from the adjacent teeth to ensure a more precise and natural fit, surpassing the crowns created using conventional techniques.

The study, published in the journal Dental Materials, highlights the significance of dental crowns. These tooth-shaped caps are placed over existing teeth or implants to enhance the appearance and function of damaged, misshapen, weakened, or discolored teeth, or to replace missing teeth when used with an artificial implant, as explained by the American Dental Association (ADA).

Currently, computer-assisted design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software are primarily used to create dental crowns. Although this process represents a significant improvement over traditional methods, it still has limitations, as stated in the press release. The software utilizes a “tooth library” containing crown templates, but manual adjustments are still required to ensure an optimal fit for each individual patient.

The press release further explains, “The two existing methods of designing dental crowns result in crowns that are either too large or too thin, and fall short of matching the same lifespan as natural teeth.” To address these shortcomings, the researchers from Hong Kong University employed 3D machine learning technology to train the AI algorithm using over 600 cases of natural and healthy dental results. By learning the morphological features of natural teeth during the training process, the algorithm can design dental crowns that closely resemble natural teeth in both appearance and function.

Comparing the AI-designed crowns to those created using CAD/CAM methods, the AI versions were found to be superior both aesthetically and functionally, as discovered by the researchers. Dr. James Tsoi, the principal investigator, stated in the press release, “This demonstrates that 3D-DCGAN (3D-Deep Convolutional Generative Adversarial Network) could be utilized to design personalized dental crowns with high accuracy that can not only mimic both the morphology and biomechanics of natural teeth but also operate without any additional human fine-tuning, thus saving additional costs in the production process.”

Dr. Tejas Patel, owner of Austin Cosmetic Dentistry in Texas, who reviewed the study’s findings, noted the potential benefits of using generative AI to create near-perfect crowns. Patel explained that the time-consuming process of creating artificial teeth like dentures and crowns could be significantly reduced, resulting in cost savings and greater precision. He also emphasized that generative AI in dentistry could enable better oral health maintenance for patients, as dentists could easily diagnose illnesses by analyzing patient images.

While clinical trials are already underway for the use of generative AI in creating dental crowns, it may still take some time before this technology becomes available in the United States. Patel suggested that other researchers might adopt it sooner, but patients will likely begin experiencing the benefits in the coming year or later.

However, Patel also cautioned about potential privacy risks associated with generative AI. The use of accumulated patient data in the AI database could lead to breaches if adequate cybersecurity measures are not in place.

Another aspect to consider is the potential impact on dental technician jobs. Dr. Fatima Khan, a dentist and co-founder at Riven Oral Care in Houston, Texas, who was not involved in the Hong Kong study, highlighted the concern that dental technicians, who possess refined skills and aesthetic sensibilities, may face higher lab fees due to their expertise. As the dental library accumulates more cases and the analyzed data is perfected, AI-generated results may surpass the work of individual lab technicians.

Khan also mentioned that the increased reliance on equipment in dentistry, driven by AI, could present a possible disadvantage as equipment malfunctions could occur. Nonetheless, the advancements made by the University of Hong Kong researchers demonstrate the potential for AI to revolutionize dental crown design, providing patients with more accurate and functional solutions for their dental needs.

By Impact Lab