UB dental school professor discusses how AI can advance periodontic treatment

Nathalia Andrade pictured in a dental office setting.

Nathalia P. Andrade, clinical assistant professor of periodontics and endodontics, created a new course for residents in the UB School of Dental Medicine that integrates artificial intelligence into periodontic care. Photo: Douglas Levere

Release Date: May 22, 2024

“My main goal is to teach students to use critical thinking while using AI tools. It is a technology in development and can make mistakes. ”
Nathalia P. Andrade, clinical assistant professor of periodontics and endodontics
School of Dental Medicine, University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. When Nathalia P. Andrade joined the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine as a clinical assistant professor of periodontics and endodontics last September, she noticed that her department had impressive technological equipment and software with artificial intelligence capabilities. She also saw an opportunity to leverage the quickly evolving technology into her teaching.

Within a week of being hired, Andrade applied for and was awarded a $5,000 seed grant from the UB Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Teaching Transformation to create a new course weaving AI into periodontics. This dental specialty focuses on the health of periodontium, the tissues that support teeth.

She taught “Transforming Periodontal and Dental Care Powered by Artificial Intelligence” for the first time in spring 2024. While tailored specifically for periodontal residents, the course was open to all dental school residents and will be offered again in 2026.

Andrade, who started studying AI while completing her residency, published an article in the March 2022 issue of Clinical Advances in Periodontics about successfully using AI in a procedure to lengthen teeth shortened over time or because of teeth malposition, which causes the gums to be more exposed. “Dual Digitally Guided Crown Lengthening in Esthetic Area Compromised by Disharmonic Implant Crown,” ranked as a top-cited paper for the publication.

Andrade recently weighed in on how AI is transforming periodontics and how dental students at UB are using it.

When did you first become interested in AI as it relates to dental care?

I was always passionate about technology of all kinds. I never took a course in using AI, but during my residency, I would sit in front of the computer and figure out how to do it. I saw how it would make periodontic surgery faster and more precise. I started to love using it, and I wanted to teach others how to use it, too.

What is the main focus of your AI research?

AI can be used in three different stages of care: diagnosis, treatment and maintenance. My work is mainly focused on diagnosis and treatment, such as the procedure on lengthening crowns. With AI, we precisely know where to cut the gum and where to remove the bone behind it. When you go free hand, it’s hard to get the measurements right. With AI, you do all the thinking process before the procedure and at the time of the procedure you just need to follow the guide.

How does the guide work?

For the crown lengthening procedure, for example, we use AI to determine how the smile will look after the procedure. Once the patient signs off, we create a guide for the exact position where we need to cut. We print it and put it in the patient’s mouth. In another example, when doing an implant with a patient, a guide can show us the correct position and angulation of the implant. It’s particular helpful in cases with multiple implants.

What are other ways that AI aids in periodontic care?

It can highlight the treatments that the patient most likely needs by the X-rays, periodontal chart and the information that’s in the patient’s record. It can also tell you if the patient is missing a treatment or is due for a cleaning.

AI can also help diagnose a patient quicker and more accurately. For example, when an X-ray indicates a problem, there are a lot of variables. One clinician can look at the image and say, “There’s 50% bone loss,” while another clinician will say, “No, for me, it looks like 60%.”

I think AI is going to help us create a standard that will be the same for everybody.

What are some of the main points you’re teaching students about using AI?

My main goal is to teach students to use critical thinking while using AI tools. It is a technology in development and can make mistakes. Different kind of procedures have different kind of mistakes; we have to explore them so that we teach the machine how to do the procedures properly in the future.

Talk about the new course and how you used the seed grant to fund it.

The course is designed to supplement the clinical experiences of students in postgraduate programs in 3D surgical digital planning, microscope surgery and AI as applied to periodontics.

With the funding, I brought in experts from other schools who taught different aspects of AI. Four came in person and two presented the lectures virtually. They also worked with me on how to apply AI techniques on a larger scale and how to handle HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) regulations.

How do you think the course went overall?

I was very happy with it. I initially planned for 11 periodontic residents, but in the end, about 25 residents from other dental programs, as well as periodontics faculty, came in to observe the class. I did a survey with students at the end, and they really liked the lectures and the guides because it allowed them to be up to date on new technologies. I can tell that the lessons worked because I see students using AI now. They’re digitally planning the surgical periodontal cases of real patients, using it for crown lengthening procedures, advanced bone graft cases – like a sinus lift – and implant placement.

When will the AI course be offered going forward?

We plan to offer the course very other spring. The activities and access to new software and intraoral scanners are expensive. So, we will look for solutions and support to have it available to the students more often. The students indicated in the survey that they would like to learn more procedures using AI-software. I also would like to introduce the AI-based software to dental students by adding this component to the periodontal course they already take and focus more on the diagnosis of the patient and risk assessment.

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