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Inside the surgery room of a Q & M Dental Clinic.
Dr Melissa Lee Rong showing the scanner used to make a 3D model of patients’ teeth.

WE’VE seen the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in many industries today including healthcare. As it gets more advanced, AI has also penetrated oral healthcare and is expected to have a significant influence over the next few years.

When data for AI in dentistry evolves, dentists will be able to diagnose specific problems and customise treatment plans for patients. Although AI and machine learning are the biggest disruptors in the technology world, it will not replace the dentist. It empowers the industry that is due for innovation and advancement.

Q & M Dental Group unfolded its plans on AI technology’s future implementation at the launch of its 30th clinic in EkoCheras Mall recently.

Q & M was first established in Singapore. From a single clinic with one dentist at Bukit Batok back in 1996, the group now has up to 78 clinics strategically located island-wide.

It has also expanded its footprint in Malaysia and China. Besides clinics, it has also become one of the leading distributors of dental materials and equipment for dental surgeries and dental laboratories in Malaysia.


UNDER THE HOOD
Though still in the development stage, Q & M group chief executive officer Dr Ng Chin Siau says the AI machines will be ready next year.

Working with Malaysia’s International Medical University, he explains how the AI technology is going to fill in the gap in patient care.

“When patients go to a different dentist to get a second or third opinion, they also get different treatment plans. With the AI system, it can provide the best treatment plans and give a holistic analysis of the patient’s condition and symptoms,” he says.

Q & M is building a Dental Imaging Diagnostic and Clinical Decision Support System, leveraging AI and machine learning.

This system will prevent misdiagnosis through automatic radiographic interpretation and form automated treatment plans from current best practices.

The AI machines will not only diagnose the problems, they will also list out treatment options for the patients.

Dr Ng says back in 2014 they introduced a computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) imaging process techniques. The systems use an optical camera to take virtual impressions by creating a 3D image. Once the captured images are run through a software, it will produce a digital model and design the prosthesis.

With all the data collected from previous patient cases, this system will also complement the AI machines and assist in making sound clinical decisions with evidence-based practice.


BENEFITS
For patients, they can be assured of an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan options to avoid errors based on personal judgement and bias.

“Some dentists can be outdated in terms of treatments, but the AI machines will not only diagnose the problems, they will also list out treatment options for the patients to choose from.

“Based on each individual’s budget and affordability, they can opt for either the best treatment or the next best and so on,” says Dr Ng.

Patients can save time spent searching for dentists who fit their needs. As Q & M is providing them with options, they will not have to go for a second opinion from different dentists. Even if the diagnosis is done on the same day, patients do not have to visit the dentist again just to get their diagnosis results.

For dental care providers, AI can assist with evidence-based decision-making. It will expedite the process of data analysis and helps provide dentists with the information needed to overcome challenges. Some dentists still haven’t updated their treatment procedures from when they graduated, this system will help to standardise treatments and procedures for all dentists.

In the long run, this will result in better clinical results, cost reductions, improved access and patient satisfaction.


CHALLENGES
Dr Ng says to stay competitive in private dentistry, they have to develop new capabilities to improve patient care and satisfy the demands.

“Another challenge for us is to prepare dentists for the future. With more than 15 dental colleges and universities in Malaysia producing about 1,000 dentists a year, we need to ensure the quality and standard of the young dentists, which is a reason why we are starting our own Q & M College of Dentistry and developing AI systems for the younger talents.”

The diploma course includes lectures, hands-on instructions and treating patients under the supervision of clinical instructors.

In October 2019, Q & M has opened Singapore’s first private dental college that offers postgraduate diploma studies in clinical dentistry. The college does not offer bachelor programmes.

“We don’t train students to become dentists, but we train dentists who have graduated for them to acquire more surgical skill sets. We have lecturers teaching in areas like implantology, periodontics, laser dentistry, restorative dentistry and more.

“With the setting up of Q & M Dental College, we hope to create a new generation of dentists with added expertise in advanced surgical skills. Apart from dentists in Singapore, the college could also enrol interested practitioners in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China,” says Dr Ng, adding that the AI machines will also be used in training once these are ready.


PLANS
Q & M Dental Group will continue to pursue organic expansion in its existing markets, along with working on acquisition opportunities for large and established dental institutions and dental supply manufacturers in the region. The group will also be actively exploring good local working partners in Southeast Asia countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam in the next few years.

In terms of innovation, Dr Ng says they will optimise their AI-enhanced treatment plan through various development stages before deployment.

“In the future, we will explore other uses of AI in dentistry. With time, as the machine gets more sophisticated and there’s a lot of automation, it will not only be used by dentists but might be integrated for patient usage as well.”

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