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Exclusive: Dental AI Council launched by industry leaders from Delta Dental, Heartland, Schein, Walmart, others

Sept. 28, 2020
The Dental AI Council aims to accelerate the adoption of AI in dentistry by exploring and validating its possible applications in dentistry, from early diagnosis to claims processing.
Amelia Williamson DeStefano, Group Editorial Director

Leaders from across the dental industry today announced the formation of the Dental AI Council (DAIC). In a press release, the DAIC described its primary function as leading “independent research to ascertain where and how AI will prove most valuable to dentistry, empirically validate its functional capabilities and performance, and answer fundamental questions related to AI's role in the oral health-care ecosystem of tomorrow.”

The founding members of DAIC come from all parts of the dental industry, from practitioners, DSOs, manufacturers, practice management software providers, insurance carriers, laboratories and universities.

The dental profession has frequently lagged behind other health-care professions in the adaption of novel technologies. Some dental professionals also view AI and its associated use of large amounts of data with skepticism, something that the DAIC acknowledges.

“At present, the excitement about AI’s enormous value potential in dental is attenuated by misconceptions and even some fear,” said the DAIC’s lead organizer. Ophir Tanz, CEO of the dental AI company Pearl. “To chart a path forward for AI, the dental community needs to understand the science and recognize common fallacies surrounding AI.”

DentistryIQ’s Morning Briefing had the chance to ask DAIC members a few questions on the eve of this announcement. Read more to hear why the Council thinks AI can help everyday dental practitioners improve treatment acceptance, insurance claims processing, malpractice protection, and more.

What is the most important thing you’d like individual clinicians to understand about this endeavor?

Dr. Bruce Lieberthal, chief innovation officer, Henry Schein: “The subject of artificial intelligence in dentistry and health care, while not new, has only recently been a technically viable reality. There are a myriad of ways that AI can be used to advance dentistry and dental care. More than anything, my sense is our work at the DAIC will help identify and prioritize what challenges and opportunities AI is best applied to. There are profound opportunities to help dental practitioners and patients with diagnosis, treatment planning, procedures and practice management and marketing that are truly exciting. Our role, in my view, will be to help to directionally set focus priority.”

What is an example of how a general practitioner might benefit from using AI in his or her practice?

Dr. Bruce Lieberthal, chief innovation officer, Henry Schein: “The entire category of clinical decision support is given life with the appropriate application of computer vision in imaging. Treatment planning, case design, robotics, claims adjudication, practice management/marketing are other key areas where general practitioners will enjoy huge benefits.

“Of course, AI in diagnostics is likely to give them the most immediate benefit. Clinicians using AI-integrated imaging and practice management software will elevate the consistency and quality of diagnoses. Improvements at the diagnostic level facilitate improvements in treatment planning and outcomes. That builds patient trust and, in turn, patient retention. Practice revenue growth follows. In terms of an immediate practical use-case benefit, a clinician can use AI diagnostic findings to validate treatment recommendations to skeptical patients.

More broadly, clinicians also become less vulnerable to malpractice liabilities associated with misdiagnosis and over- or under-treatment. Likewise, insurance claims for treatments backed by AI-supported diagnoses are more likely to be approved. That same kind of AI system can even unearth missed treatment opportunities in historical radiographs. Other kinds could be used to improve the quality of prosthetic fabrication and restorations. These are just a few of the benefits afforded by AI technologies that currently exist. As innovation continues, solutions for treatment planning, aesthetic dentistry and other applications should considerably expand the list of AI’s clinical benefits.”

What is an example of how the dental industry as a whole might benefit from AI?

Ophir Tanz, chief executive officer, Pearl: “The most fundamental benefit that AI can deliver to the dental industry is comprehensive consistency. Let’s consider what that might look like for insurance carriers, since they’re the industry’s financial lynchpin. Every year, hundreds of millions of claims are submitted. Since only a tiny portion of these can be reviewed, most are automatically approved. Of those, a large portion are valid. But, with them, millions of fraudulent or otherwise invalid claims slip through the cracks. Meanwhile, examiner time is needlessly wasted reviewing claims that will inevitably be approved. It is a whole system mired in inconsistency.

“With AI, carriers could undertake at least a provisional review of every claim, using the technology to identify alignment between radiographic evidence and the clinician’s stated diagnosis and treatment. In this context, only claims that do not show appropriate alignment will be subjected to manual review. With this infusion of consistency and accuracy, the speed and efficiency of claims review increases, fraud, waste and abuse are stifled, and instant claims settlement becomes a real possibility. Since insurance companies pass the costs of inconsistent claims review on to customers, when AI eliminates that inconsistency, insurance rates go down. When insurance is more affordable, more people invest in it––and, by turn, more people seek dental care. In this way, the entire industry benefits from the introduction of AI-facilitated consistency, and this as a result of its application to just one facet of the industry.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a new emphasis on oral-systemic health and the earliest possible diagnosis of inflammatory disease. How can AI help with this goal?

Dr. Robert Mongrain, clinical director, clinical digital technology scanners and labs, Heartland Dental: "Consider bone loss, which has been linked to heart disease. We can flag health disease risk based on evidence of bone loss in intraoral radiographs, but we’re only really able to raise that flag when the bone loss is already pronounced. By that point, the patient’s heart disease is likely fairly advanced. To anticipate heart disease through evidence of bone loss, we have to incrementally track bone loss through historical radiographs to understand its rate of progress.

"That’s not something that clinicians can accomplish efficiently. AI can do that in the background and automatically flag bone loss rate increases extremely early on. More broadly, because it can analyze collections of patient health data at the population level and cross-reference incidence of oral health conditions against whole-body health conditions, AI will help uncover additional correlations between oral pathologies and general population health. Since people visit dentists much more regularly than they visit other doctors, this puts dentists in a position to initiate intervention before more serious health conditions develop."

 The Dental AI Council’s 15 founding members are:

  • Ashish Tholia, director of strategy, Delta Dental
  • Dr. Bruce Lieberthal, chief innovation officer, Henry Schein
  • Dr. Kyle Stanley, chief clinical officer, Pearl
  • Dr. Linda Vidone, chief clinical officer, Delta Dental of Massachusetts
  • Lou Azzara, chief executive officer, Dental Services Group Laboratory
  • Dr. Markus Blatz, chair and professor of restorative dentistry, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine
  • Merrit Dake, chief executive officer, Rock Dental
  • Mischa Reis, senior vice president, strategy & corporate development, Envista
  • Ophir Tanz, chief executive officer, Pearl
  • Dr. Robert Mongrain, director of clinical Advisors, Heartland Dental
  • Ronald Bolden, vice president of dental market insight, Cigna
  • Dr. Roshan Parikh, head of dentistry, Walmart
  • Dr. Sanjay Mallya, chair and associate professor of oral and maxillofacial radiology, UCLA School of Dentistry
  • Steve Bilt, chief executive officer, Smile Brands
  • Tom Daulton, chief executive officer and president, National Dentex Laboratories